When the Indian River varsity football coaching staff made the decision to switch offensive philosophies during the off-season, there was some uncertainty as to how it would be received.
Indian River’s reputation-maker has been the team’s power running game, but after two weeks of play with the change to feature the passing game, any lingering doubts about the switch have been erased.
Indian River and their pass-happy spread offense outlasted Cape Henlopen 34-31 in overtime on Sept. 7 and then followed that up with a 42-14 win over Stephen Decatur on Sept. 14 – a game in which four different Indians offensive players scored touchdowns.
Indians quarterback Nick Kmetz orchestrated three straight scoring drives last Friday to take a 21-0 IRHS lead in the first half, following an unproductive first drive.
Kmetz finished the game with 182 passing yards on 15-21 passes, a touchdown pass to Trevor Abbott, 65 rushing yards and two rushing touchdowns. He was 11-15 after the first half, throwing for 145 yards and had six passes of 15 yards or more – which, as the offense is designed to do, spread the field and opened lanes for the running game.
“By doing what we’re doing in the passing game, we’re helping the running game,” head coach Jim Bunting said. “They [running backs] were able to find lanes and get good yardage.”
Fullback Cody Cooke led the Indians running game with seven carries and translated that into 61 yards. He scored the Indians’ first touchdown of the Sept. 14 game. Isaiah Phillips burnt Stephen Decatur for 33 yards on just three carries, and Jeremy Purnell put the exclamation point on the win with a 48-yard touchdown run late in the fourth quarter.
Despite the Indians not featuring any one rusher this season, Bunting explained that there is enough spotlight for everyone eat on Friday nights.
“The kids seem to have accepted that it’s not going to be all on one [player],” Bunting said. “Everyone is going to carry the ball.”
The statistics from their Sept. 14 game testified to that plan. Abbott led the Indians receiving corps with six catches for 55 yards. Zack Kmetz reeled in four passes for 50 yards. Danny Bokinsky had two catches for 38 yards. Robbie Disharoon added 27 yards on two catches, and Phillips had a 12-yard reception.
Defensively, Bunting also had expressed some concern as to whether the Indians’ usual hybrid defense — which employs their front eight defensive players in standup positions — would be effective enough to stop the run. And, true to form, the coaching staff made adjustments and reshaped the defense to resemble a traditional defensive front, with three down linemen in a three-point stance.
“Our down linemen were still reading and not reacting,” Bunting said. “We’re giving every team 2.5 yards,” he pointed out, referencing the depth of their position on the field. “And at the snap of the ball now, we’re giving three yards in our second wave [at the linebacker position], so we decided to get some more beef in there,” he said.
Bunting noted that the coaching staff has made “No retreat” the mantra for the defense this week and that their final non-conference game, against Washington High School tonight, is their last chance to work out the kinks before they head into conference play in the weeks to come.
“The Washington game gives us an opportunity to see if they’ve been paying attention in practice,” he said.
Their secondary play, on the other hand, has been superb, according to Bunting.
“At this point, we’re better against the pass than we are against the run,” he said.
Stephen Decatur ran for 130 yards last Friday, which is the second week in a row the Indians have allowed more than 100 yards on the ground. But Decatur was limited in the passing game until the end of the fourth quarter.
Indian River intercepted two Stephen Decatur passes, with Zack Kmetz taking one 64 yards for a touchdown. They also limited them to 45 passing yards through the first three quarters and 161 yards in the game. In a late push, 65 of Stephen Decatur’s total passing yards came on a touchdown pass with just over a minute remaining.
Bokinsky stonewalled Stephen Decatur’s first drive by intercepting a pass in the end zone.
Indian River will host Washington High School tonight at 7:30 p.m. and then head into conference play against Woodbridge on Sept. 28, facing off against the Southern Henlopen Champion Delmar Wildcats on Oct. 5.