Game of the Week: Rawlins County enjoying good run in first year of eight-man
Published on -10/11/2012, 10:16 AM
By CONOR NICHOLL
Followers of eight-man football have a few prevailing thoughts on what forms a successful team. First, the team must be senior-laden, preferably with players who have seen time for several years and have made the postseason.
Secondly, eight-man squads need a great offense to at least reach the playoffs -- and some speedy backs who can get to the edge and score. If an eight-man team is going to be dominant, it requires a great offense and defense.
Atwood-Rawlins County, in its first season of eight-man football after it switched from 11-man, has turned conventional wisdom upside down. The Buffs are 6-0, 2-0 in Eight-Man Division I, District 8 and are ranked No. 5 in the statewide media poll.
"I have not seen it as a major change," Rawlins Co. coach Deone Horinek said. "It's still football. It's still very competitive football. I guess I can say that the change has been a lot less than I actually thought it would. The game, the fundamentals, everything is the same. We are even running the same type of offensive and defensive schemes."
The Buffs have three close victories and don't have a lot of team speed. Plus, they are known much more for its defense than offense. Rawlins Co. also doesn't have a single senior on the roster. A couple considered going out, but the program expected to have zero when the year started. However, every current starter started at least one game in 2011 on a 4-5 team that had 13 seniors, but was injury-plagued.
"Everybody always said that there were some good teams," sophomore Rhett Mizer said. "They would just had one fast kid. They would pitch him the ball and he would run for touchdowns every play. I knew coming into the season that we weren't going to be able to do that. We have got some pretty fast kids, but nobody that is just blazing, but we run hard in between the tackles, get a few blocks, chip away seven or eight yards at a time, and it works just fine."
Rawlins Co. has run power football and a 3-2 defense, schemes the team is comfortable with. The Buffs have had trouble putting teams away, but have outscored opponents 196-94.
"We kind of knew going in that this is what we were going to have to do," Horinek said. "I think the kids embraced it. I think the biggest mistake that we could have made was try and switch an entire game plan and switch a football philosophy and make the kids learn something different."
I would love to get out and spread the field and throw the ball every play, but that's just not who we are as a team, and it's not who the kids are," he added. "They are used to the smashmouth and five yards and a cloud of dust."
That includes a 22-14 victory in Week 2 against Bird City-Cheylin, a 30-28 win against Sylvan-Lucas in Week 3 and a 14-12 victory against Quinter in Week 4.
"We have been up and have allowed teams to get back into the game," Horinek said. "I think that killer instinct of just finishing games is what we are battling. We have got good kids, but we haven't had a winning tradition in the past, so we are really trying to get them understand that when you are up, you've got to put it to them. There is no letdown."
That was a contest that both teams said it didn't play very well. The squads will match up again Friday in a key district matchup.
"The last time we played Atwood, we left two, maybe three touchdowns on the field, and we shot ourselves in the foot on the blocked punt, and we just would not get on track," Quinter coach Greg Woolf said. "We played a great second half. We were flat the first."
Rawlins Co. ranks sixth in the classification in scoring defense at 15.7 points per contest, but has averaged 32.7 points per game. The scoring defense is outstanding. Among the 32 eight-man teams that reached the playoffs last year, only nine had a better scoring defense.
However, just one -- 4-6 Centre-Lost Springs -- had a better scoring offense. Still, Rawlins County's different way has been effective. Horinek is one of the few coaches who tracks quarterback hurries and pressure is a big part of the Buffs' defense. They have 43 quarterback hurries, including 11 from junior James Peterson.