Cable and Internet coverage of Bay Area prep athletics may be at an all-time high, but the Lowell and Sacred Heart Cathedral football teams are reminding fans of the days of black-and-white television and high-top cleats.
The Cardinals and Irish are a combined 3-0 in the season’s early going, achieving their success not with trendy passing attacks, but old-school offenses content to grind yards out on the ground. Lowell’s double wing and Sacred Heart’s veer I-back option may be more common offenses amongst teams playing in areas with adverse weather conditions, but in sunny California, preparing for the physical, unconventional offenses can make opponents extremely uncomfortable.
And the results are evident. Lowell has made the Academic Athletic Association playoffs in each of the last three seasons, while Sacred Heart is coming off a 9-1 campaign.
In Lowell’s double wing, all 11 players are bunched together almost within the hashmarks and each snap sets off a miniature rugby scrum. One of the two wingbacks will take a step back and the quarterback — either Carter Rockwell or Matthew Jew — will distribute the ball and immediately make a block against an onrushing defensive lineman. The rest of the offense looks for someone to hit as the ballcarrier bulls his way up the middle of the field.
It is, as Cardinals coach Danny Chan said, a "defensive-minded offense."
"I think it fits the Lowell player well," Chan said. "We get very dedicated and disciplined kids and it’s something we take a lot of pride in."
Lowell ran the ball on 46 of 50 plays in its season-opening 20-10 win at Mills, amassing 223 yards and two touchdowns on the ground.
"I love it," Rockwell said. "I don’t wish I was in any kind of passing offense. I’d rather do this and win."
But just when opposing defenses think the Cardinals have actually taken the air out of the ball, they will surprise you. In the win over Mills, Lowell appeared to be running out the first half before Rockwell faked a pitch and hit J.R. Ayalde down the left side for a 50-yard touchdown to put the Cardinals up 12-10 seconds before halftime.
A similar occurrence happened to the run-first, second and third Sacred Heart Cathedral offense Friday in Half Moon Bay. Locked in a tight game against a Cougars team determined to take away the ground game, the Irish turned loose quarterback Paul Sweeney’s arm and the senior responded with 8-of-9 passing for 169 yards and a touchdown in a 27-22 win.
Still, Sweeney admits his major role in the offense isn’t throwing, but reading the defense, making decisions and, surprisingly, taking some of the biggest hits.
"It’s my job to bait the linebacker, make him play me and make the pitch at the last second [before getting hit]," Sweeney said. "I accept that. And it’s nice to always have our linemen helping me up."
The Irish’s veer option attack is based off the traditional split-back option, but Sacred Heart runs it out of an I-back set. Coach John Lee says the Irish are the only team in the area to run the option out of this formation and, on any given play, Sweeney must choose one of four plays at the line of scrimmage and then decide when, where and to whom to distribute the ball after the snap.