Undefeated CHS squad hosts speedy St. Joseph foe at 7 p.m.
By PAUL STURM, C-T Sports Editor
CHILLICOTHE, Mo. — A battle of contrasting approaches seems certain to play out on the artificial turf of Bob Fairchild Field at Chillicothe’s Jerry Litton Memorial Stadium II tonight.
If, at some point, the “turf monster” causes a player from visiting St. Joseph: Lafayette to stumble and fall, it just might be the ethos of the field’s namesake weighing in on which style he wants to prevail.
The undefeated Chillicothe High School football Hornets (5-0, 3-0 conf.) will welcome Lafayette’s Fighting Irish (4-1, 2-1 conf.) for Midland Empire Conference play. Game time will be the usual 7 p.m.
The game will feature Chillicothe’s traditional, “ground and pound” run-oriented attack – featured since the early 1960s when alumnus Bob Fairchild took over the football head coaching post for a 35-years run and continued through protegé Phil Willard’s subsequent 20-years stint leading the Hornets – against the explosive, “highlight-reel” attack of Lafayette.
With quick and fast senior quarterback Diego Bernard at the helm of the LHS offense and multiple players around him with the speed and moves to turn any play into a long gain or six points, Chillicothe will want to turn the game into one of field position, controlling the ball with the largely-methodical offensive approach with which it is most associated, and a containment-type defense aimed at limiting the number of chances the Fighting Irish’s playmakers have to win 1-on-1 duels in the open field.
“The No. 1 concern is their speed,” coach Willard says about LHS coach Bart Hardy’s club, which surprisingly was shut down and shut out 35-0 at Smithville last week, “their team speed, led by Diego Bernard.
“Our big challenge is being able to contain him and their speedy receivers and Trey Washington, their dangerous running back.”
Last year at St. Joseph, the Hornets won 31-21, surprisingly producing 24 unanswered points with several big scoring plays of their own to turn a very brief 14-7 deficit into a 31-14 advantage.
Bernard rushed for 233 yards out of both designed runs and scrambles and scored on dashes of 52 yards in the second period and 36 yards late in the fourth, but consistently-poor field position – Lafayette started possessions beyond its own 34 only twice – meant many of his yards were far from the “red zone” and thus didn’t produce points.
Three of the Hornets who put those long-range points on the scoreboard – Josh Kille, Brett Shaffer, and placekicker Jack Willard – are still in uniform for CHS, operating behind outstanding offensive line play, so Chillicothe is not restricted from scoring quickly itself.
If the Hornets can score on a big play tonight, they’ll gladly take it. However, they’ll also be satisfied to chew up time and march the ball steadily downfield behind the exceptional blocking, as long as they score at the end of the possession or, at worst, pin the Irish offense deep in their own territory.
“Our offense needs to do a great job of controlling the football,” coach Willard insists.
The Hornets’ prospects for being able to move the ball consistently and sustain drives seem good, particularly given the way Smithville did just that against the inexperienced LHS defensive line last week.
Defensively, to combat the read-and-react, improvisational threat Bernard poses from the “pistol” or “shotgun” formation, the Hornets figure to employ the more-passive defensive approach which worked reasonably well as the game unfolded last year.
In it, CHS often used only three defensive linemen, whose rush of Bernard was measured and aimed to “bracket” him and force any scrambles or runs to be to the middle of the field. There, if the linemen couldn’t get him, the remaining eight defenders – initially charged with making it tough for the LHS quarterback to find an open receiver – would respond to try to hem him in.
However, potentially hamstringing a similar level of success for the CHS “D” in that approach, Washington left with an injury midway through the first half of last year’s game, essentially erasing the threat of runs by anyone other than Bernard. A healthy Washington will complicate things for the Chillicothe defense.
With the speed and elusiveness of Bernard, Washington, and four or five receivers, there will be a premium for the Hornets’ defense and kick coverage teams to be very, very sound in their tackling and in their management of space when a Lafayette player has the ball near them.
“We’ve been in pretty good position and able to make solid tackles so far,” coach Willard says of his defenders’ work in 1-on-1 situations thus far. “Of course, we’ll want to get as many guys to the ball as we can and limit those.”
Another concern is the potential for “trick” or unusual plays, whether they be reverses, reverse passes, “hook-and-ladders” (lateral after catching a pass), throwback passes to the quarterback, etc. Bernard also does the Irish punting and is more than willing to run from that formation, rather than kick.
“We’re preparing for those, too,” coach Willard related Wednesday.
Summarizing the overall defensive challenge of Lafayette’s multiple threats, the coach comments, “It takes good communication between our guys on the field.”
The CHS coach reports his team’s health is generally good and that all needed players should answer the bell.