MISSION — Wrong offence, bad result.
Right offence, good result.
The Mission Roadrunners are true believers in that simplest of formulas this season, their third at the Triple-A tier, and one in which they have finally begun to show the signs of forward progress.
And if you’re a fan of the home-spun charm that can only be found within the roster of a high school football, then this one is for you.
Back on Sept. 7, the Roadrunners (3-3, 3-1) didn’t exactly open their new season the way they would have hoped in a 7-6 loss to the AA Langley Saints.
Yet that setback, for head coach Danny Jakobs, confirmed that his team needed to scrap its spread offence as soon as humanly possible and adopt a new offence entirely, one that he had had a lot of prior experience playing against.
“We had one double-wing play installed for the game against Langley, and we ended up running it 10 times because it was the only thing that was working,” laughed Jakobs.
“To me, your offence has to suit your personnel and we are not a spread team.”
So after fine-tuning the spread over the duration of the team’s entire fall camp, they figuratively threw their playbook out of the bus window and onto the side of Highway 1 East, and began to re-visit the chapters of the double-wing.
“When we were a Double A team, we would have to play John Barsby all the time,” began Jakobs of the Nanaimo-based powerhouse. “So I knew the offence so well. In fact we would start preparing to face it in September, even if Barsby wasn’t on our schedule. So I have to give credit to (Barsby hedad coach) Rob Stevenson. After years of prepping for him, it’s an offence I just knew so well.”
And make no mistake about it, over a five-year span from 2010-14, Mission v. Barsby was AA’s No. 1 rivalry.
The two teams faced each other in either Subway Bowl semifinals or finals in four of those five years.
Barsby beat Mission 28-0 in the 2010 semis at UBC, Mission came back in 2011 and beat Barsby 16-12 in the finals at B.C. Place, Barsby won 34-27 in the 2013 semifinals at UBC, and in 2014, Barsby again won, this time 36-20 in the provincial final at B.C. Place.
What will define the double-wing look this Saturday (1 p.m.) when Mission plays host to the Kelowna Owls (2-4, 1-3)?
It’s a power offence, and it aims to bring as many players as possible to the point of attack.
“We work as a unit, it’s foot to foot,” says Jakobs. “Sometimes you’re getting eight guys at the point of attack. It’s fun because you’re going right through guys. It’s been really rewarding for the big guys.”
Players like linemen Taylor Fleming, Clayton White, Trase Recksy, Mathew Bouwers and Owen Sepke have been put in their best positions to succeed as the big guys up front in the new offence.
And while their first game as double-wing team was a lopsided 49-0 loss at Bellingham’s tough Meridian High, things have fallen into place nicely ever since.
Mission has produced convincing conference victories over Abbotsford (29-8), Mt. Boucherie (42-8) and Centennial (42-7).
Yet their most impressive outing has been their only conference loss, a 16-6 effort at No. 2-ranked Terry Fox on Oct. 5.
“I think the belief on our team is that we’re a pretty tough bunch and we can hold our own in the trenches,” said Jakobs of the mano-a-mano clash that took place against a Ravens’ team known for its stout push along the lines.
“You could just see that as the game went along, that while we didn’t push them around, it was just the fact that play after play we held them, and then they were punting,” Jakobs continued with pride. “The guys just really started to believe that they could do this, and it’s been a few years.”
The ‘Runners are a 24-man unit on a team with a no-cut policy, and others, like Taylor Fleming, Michael Guitard and Cody McMahon have been big parts of the team’s success this season.
As well, receiver Tyson Bongo has also played solid at one of the corner spots.
“It’s hard to flourish as a receiver in a double-wing but Tyson has done well, and he is a great corner,” added Jakobs.
Of course the offence wouldn’t be clicking on all cylinders if there wasn’t a ball-carrier taking advantage of the push coming up front.
Senior Keegan Royal has been that guy, sitting 10th in AAA (fourth in the East) with 531 yards rushing and seven touchdowns in six games.
“Keegan is one of our five-year guys and he’s a guy that never asks to come off the field,” says Jakobs of the 6-0, 170-pounder who averages 7.6 yards-per-carry and doubles on defence as the WILL linebacker.
Of course if you think Mission’s 10-point loss to No. 2 Terry Fox was impressive, visiting Kelowna is a team on the rise as well, and last week head coach Kurt Thornton of the No. 1-ranked Lord Tweedsmuir Panthers thought his team was lucky to get by the Owls 21-20 in a squeaker at the Apple Bowl.
“Their quarterback (Isaac Athans) is a good one because he is quick, shifty and hard to keep in the pocket,” said Jakobs of the Owls, “and their top receiver, No. 17 (Nolan Ulm) is great. They will be physical with our offence. I don’t know what to expect but it will be a great game.”
Mission’s rise is a story about everything that is great about high school football.
Scrapping your offence a week into the season, installing a new one, getting complete buy-in…what could be better?
“Just walking in there to watch film with them at lunch time, there is just a buzz,” relays Jakobs. “If we were a spread team, we would fail miserably. But we found the right thing to do, and the guys are excited to do it. It’s been pretty cool.”
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