After first loss of 2017 last week, CHS seeks to rebound at 2-4 Savannah this evening at 7 o'clock
By PAUL STURM, C-T Sports Editor
CHILLICOTHE, Mo. — When the Chillicothe High School football Hornets trudged off Bob Fairchild Field at CHS’ Jerry Litton Memorial Stadium II last Friday, their defensive unit likely felt like it had been in a combination blender and centrifuge, following a 54-38 defeat at the hands – and especially feet – of the very-quick St. Joseph: Lafayette Fighting Irish.
A game in which the Hornets battled hard and – despite trailing by 21 points in the final minute of the first half – came reasonably close to winning, nevertheless went into the record books as their first setback of the 2017 season after five wins.
Tonight comes the opportunity to rid themselves of the disturbing memories of the blur that was Lafayette last week and reestablish a positive vibe as they begin the final third of the regular season.
“They’re a mature bunch,” Phil Willard, CHS head coach, says of his squad’s capacity for getting past last week’s game, psychologically, and focusing on facing a 2-4 Savannah team. “They understand… that you’ve got to get better each week.”
“We’ve had a good week of practice,” the coach reports.
Beyond the specific challenges Savannah, in its first season under the oversight of head coach Randy Schrader, will present, coach Willard says there were lessons to be learned from the high-scoring loss to the Irish.
“It does expose some (fundamental) things that you probably need to put some extra time in on in practice and that’s what we’ve done,” he comments.
As to Savannah’s particular capabilities, the ever-cautious Chillicothe head coach notes that the Savages’ sub-.500 overall record can be deceiving, when one looks below the surface.
Having a new head coach’s system to learn and execute was an early obstacle for SHS, as was a strong early-season schedule. The foes which handed Savannah losses each of the first four weeks currently have a composite record of 19-6.
In the aftermath of that gauntlet, the Savages have been big winners over the Midland Empire Conference’s two weakest teams – St. Joseph: Benton, which was without its star quarterback Cooper Burton, and Cameron. Schrader voluntarily acknowledged, in a visit with the C-T yesterday, that the caliber of opponent has heavily flavored his team’s results to date.
Willard, however, says of the Savages, “They’ve gotten better each week.”
Personnel- and scheme-wise, Savannah bears virtually no resemblance to the Lafayette team whose offense bedeviled CHS a week ago.
“They’re a team very much like us,” coach Willard relates. “They like to be physical. They like to run the football.”
The SHS attack under Schrader, who was a head coach in Iowa for some years and served as a defensive coach at St. Joseph: Bishop LeBlond in 2016, often lines up in a single-tight-end formation with all four backs in the backfield – the quarterback in a “pistol” set with a back to either side of him and a tailback, video shows.
“It’s almost like an old single-wing type of offense,” coach Willard relates. “They even have some (single-wing-like) false ‘pulls’ with their linemen and they also do some false lead blocking with some of the backs in the backfield to try to confuse you. You’re really going to have to play great ‘position’ defense to be able to contain their offense.”
In terms of offensive personnel, after starting the season with senior Gage Brazzell at quarterback, but, after a couple of games, sophomore Chance Spoonemore was inserted at the helm with Brazzell switched to one of the running back spots.
“(Spoonemore) has a good arm,” Chillicothe’s coach points out, citing the SHS air attack as primarily coming off play-action. “He’s a great pitcher (in baseball), has a really live arm.”
Spoonemore sat out last week’s easy win over Cameron to rest a sore hamstring, Schrader stated in a broadcast interview earlier this week, but is expected by Chillicothe coaches to play against the Hornets.
In his absence last week, Brazzell went back to quarterback and the ballcarrying load largely was handled by junior Titan Irvine, who gained well over 100 yards against the overmatched Cameron defense.
The SHS offensive interior line includes three juniors and is, weight-wise, the largest Chillicothe has faced to date with all four listed at between 220 and 245 pounds and the fifth at 313. The tight end also tips the scales at over 210, according to the roster supplied by Savannah.
If Chillicothe can win the battle in the trenches while maintaining positioning integrity on the edges and thus stop the Savages’ run game, Savannah is not perceived as having a particularly-effective passing attack against a defense expecting the ball in the air.
“They really like to set up the pass with the run, very much like we do,” says coach Willard.
Defensively, also like the Hornets, Savannah has adjusted its look to the opponent’s forte. Against CHS, the expectation is a 5- or 6-man line and linebackers crowding the line of scrimmage,
“They have a lot of people who play one way, so they’re pretty fresh,” noted the CHS coach.
Size-wise, the Savages are not as bulky in the line on defense as they are on offense, although three of the linemen are 220-235 pounds, but their inside linebacker both are 200-pounds-plus.
Both of the starting cornerbacks are sophomores, so CHS might choose to test them early.
“I think we match up pretty well against Savannah,” assesses coach Willard, “but, at the same time, you’ve got to go out and play the game and you can’t make mistakes (penalties, turnovers).”
For his part, Schrader says he is quite satisfied with where his team has progressed in the first year of his tenure.
“The kids have bought in, no doubt,” he told the C-T Wednesday. “… There’s still a long way to go, though.”
Health-wise, the Hornets are in reasonably good shape with no key players out with an injury or illness. Assuming Spoonemore is back in the lineup, Savannah is reasonably healthy, too, although it has had some players go down – mostly with soft-tissue injuries like sprains, pulls, etc. – the first half of the season, its coach reports.
Says Schrader of the Hornets’ struggles last week against a team which also blew past his own, “Lafayette got them out of their game a little bit.”
Aware his own club doesn’t have Lafayette’s speed and elusiveness, he says his squad will have to try to beat Chillicothe at its own game, a task which won’t be easy, he admits.
“What they do, they do very well,” Schrader praises.