Game of the Week - Phillipsburg has improved offense
By CONOR NICHOLL
Phillipsburg High School football coach J.B. Covington sees many positives in the pistol flexbone offense. Many teams incorporate either the pistol (such as Smith Center) or the flexbone (such as Hutchinson), but few squads use both in the same base offense.
First, it allows Panther senior quarterback Riley Juenemann to take the snap a couple yards behind the center -- but not as far as shotgun. Juenemann has more time to look over the defense and see the field much better. Secondly, it allows Juenemann more time to read in the veer option.
"He end up going downhill at the point of attack instead of down a line and that has really been the biggest thing that we have seen going to the pistol versus underneath the center," Covington said. "The fact that he gets up to speed faster going downhill."
Finally, the Panthers, in their second season of the offensive change, have produced significantly better passing numbers. As well, no Phillipsburg squad in the last decade has averaged more points than the 2013 team.
"There is a lot of things that I like," Covington said.
The pistol flexbone has helped Phillipsburg open 7-1, 1-1 in Class 3A, District 14. On Thursday, the Panthers travel to Norton (5-3, 1-1) with the district runner-up spot behind Beloit on the line. Norton won 20-7 last season to earn the runner-up berth, also behind Beloit.
While Phillipsburg is long known for its strong defense, the offense has improved in the last three seasons, especially the past two. Last year, the Panthers ranked No. 1 in 3A in scoring defense and stand seventh this season at 88 points allowed.
Phillipsburg lost a pair of Division I players in quarterback Sean Newlan and kicker Justin Juenemann, but returned many of its top players.
"A lot of their talent is back, so it's a very good team," Norton coach Lucas Melvin said. "All the quarterbacks and backs are all seniors, they have been playing for two-plus years. They have a good-sized line that does a very good job. Defensively, they have got great players that fly to the ball, so I think obviously, they don't have quite the same talent as the Newlan kid, but across the board, they have got very similar talent."
Two years ago, Phillipsburg had a 154.4 passing efficiency by the NCAA formula, averaged 94 passing yards and 255.7 rushing yards per game. The Panthers had 36.7 points per contest.
Last season, Newlan was the starting quarterback for the third straight year, but Juenemann played in nearly half the season when Newlan was hurt.
The pair helped the Panthers tally 36.7 points per game again, but the passing efficiency greatly increased to 225.6 in the first season of the pistol flexbone. The Panthers had 108 passing yards and 299 yards per contest.
This season, the offensive numbers are much improved. The Panthers average 38.2 points per game, eighth-best in 3A.
Phillipsburg has a 206.3 passing efficiency, with 124 passing yards and 294 rushing yards per game. Seven Panthers have caught between three and 10 passes.
"The numbers have really improved in our passing game in passing efficiency and spreading the ball more around," Covington said.
This year, Juenemann has completed 41 of 70 passes for 988 yards with an 8/3 TD/INT ratio.
He stands seventh among the state's 11-man quarterbacks in passing efficiency (min. 300 passing yards). The 5-foot-9, 145-pound Juenemann has also rushed 67 times for 441 yards and six TDs. Covington said Juenemann is probably the team's fastest player from standing still to full speed.
"We thought last year when he came in for Newlan, we thought that he had the potential to really be good," Covington said. "He has proved that. He is not our fastest guy, and he is definitely not our biggest guy, but he makes a lot of good decisions for us, he is a great communicator. He understands the game, he is a student of the game."
Senior Grant Wickham is speedy and athletic at 6-foot-4, 205 pounds and leads the Panthers with 58 rushes for 585 yards and 11 scores, and six catches for 203 yards and three TDs.
Senior Hunter Kohler has a team-best 10 catches for 211 yards and two scores, and 63 rushes for 542 yards and five TDs.
"Hunter has done a nice job on both sides of the football, but, he is another one of our guys, he is not our fastest guy," Covington said. "But he is extremely quick and hard-nosed and likes to get in and mix it up with people, and does a lot of really good things for us. Sometimes, he is one of those guys that can make a play that looks like it is going to go downhill."