IR football ready to tackle state tournament
With the regular season in the rear-view mirror, the Indian River Indians varsity football team turned their attention this week to their first-round opponent in this year’s DIAA state football tournament — a familiar foe: the Concord Raiders.
Concord and Indian River have met in the post-season three of the past four years, so it’s safe to say there won’t be any surprises when the Indians travel up-state to play their opening-round game tomorrow afternoon.
Raiders coach George Kosanovich likes to run the ball and, why not? He has a hulking offensive line to clear the way for bruiser Paul Worrilow and regular-season rushing leader Josh Morris (1,707 rushing yards), allowing the pair to do their thing in the Raiders’ ball-control offense.
And even though they don’t pass often (only 75 attempts all season), it doesn’t mean that they can’t. The Raiders’ senior quarterback completed 32 passes (47.8 percent) for 751 yards and nine touchdowns — all to receiver Justin Brown — and threw only two interceptions.
“George and his team are like the old Green Bay and Washington teams in the plays that they run,” Indians head coach Jim Bunting said. “They don’t run any double-reverses or anything like that. They come to the line pre-determined as to what they’re going to do, and they do it well.
“And I know George won’t admit this, but his goal is to get up seven to 14 points and then control the clock and hope you make a mistake — and by then its 42-0,” Bunting added.
“We’re the type of team that’s going to pound it with eight to nine guys in the box,” Kosanovich admitted.
Defensively, Bunting said that, to have a chance, his team was going to have tackle, tackle well and tackle well as a team.
“Defensively, we need to tackle and do it by committee,” Bunting said. “We need to gang-tackle on every play, because if someone comes up and they’re on an island, then they’re in trouble.”
Indian River’s defense held strong in the early goings of the recent Sussex Central game but wore down as the game progressed and allowed tailback Monte Murray to run all over them — to the tune of 245 yards and three touchdowns. So they’ll have to do a much better job of making plays at the point of attack, if they hope to slow down Morris and the Raiders’ running game.
How much success Indian River has offensively will all depend on their passing game. Like their offensive line, Concord’s defensive line is big and can apply pressure on the quarterback, so protecting Nick Kmetz is a priority if the Indians hope to have a chance to win the game.
Concord starts three defensive linemen who tip the scales at 225 pounds or more each and who are at least 6 feet, 2 inches tall, including a pair of behemoth tackles in Shanaun Powell and Matt Burgeon.
Defensive end J.T. Harding checks in at 230 pounds and has four sacks, while his partner on the other end, Kevin Hopkins, is much leaner (6-foot, 3 inches and 185 pounds) and is second in the state with seven sacks.
And, last but not least, Raiders nose tackle Nick DeMarco is the glue that holds their defense together. He may be undersized (at just 205 pounds) but in the three years he’s started for Kosanovich, the Raiders have never lost a game in which he’s played.
“Nick is our smallest kid, but he’s very quick and very strong, and he’s our team leader,” Kosanovich said.
The Indians’ offensive line blocked very well in the 42-7 loss to Sussex Central in their regular-season finale, allowing only one sack and one hit on Kmetz, which happened to be a delayed blitz off the corner.
“They’re busting each week,” Bunting said of his offensive line. “They take pride in protecting Nick because he’s the one that will, hopefully, put the scores on the board for us.”
Behind their defensive line, Concord doesn’t get any smaller. Worrilow, who doubles as the Raiders’ fullback, and Jamie Smith look more like LaVar Arrington and Michael Strahan than high-school middle linebackers.
“Our linebackers are outstanding, but to have kids of that size that can move like they do is amazing,” Kosanovich said. “There aren’t too many kids like that around.”
And though they may be big, Bunting and his staff feel that if there is a place to exploit, it’s forcing the Raiders linebackers to drop back and cover.
“I think that if they have an underbelly, it’s their linebackers dropping into coverage,” Bunting said. “I think they’ll have a hard time covering us on skinny post, drags or straight up the seam.”
Unfortunately for Indian River, Concord has already played and defeated three teams that utilize a pass-oriented attack. The Raiders beat Brandywine (6-4, 5-2) 28-7 and then destroyed Pencader Charter (2-8, 1-6) 46-0 and Howard (5-5, 4-3) 47-16.
“We’ve had a little taste of the spread-offense when we played Pencader, Howard and Brandywine,” Kosanovich said. “They don’t run it as exclusively as Brandywine or Indian River, but I believe we have the personnel to match up if they try to pass.”
Kosanovich mentioned that, in addition to his starting defensive backs, he also has a few more that will see playing time. Of these, Morris is the most notable, with Kosanovich saying: “Fortunately, we have six defensive backs. We’ll use our tailback [Morris] even though he’ll get 30 to 35 carries on offense. But he’s the kind of kid that wants to play defense too. And against those pass-happy offenses, he’ll go crazy.”
Last season, Concord shut out Indian River in Dagsboro 30-0 behind four rushing touchdowns, three of which were scored by Morris, and a touchdown pass from Jon Bacher to Brown.
Fortunately for Indian River, they’ve had the advantage of playing a playoff-caliber team prior to the tournament and were able to hold their own through three quarters before the Golden Knights blew the doors off hinges. And that encourages Bunting.
“Anytime you play a team with good team speed, you come away better prepared for the next game,” Bunting said.
Kickoff is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 17.