Following Homecoming triumph over Cameron gave first-year coach Tim Rulo his initial CHS victory, the 2018 Hornets look to make it two in a row at Kansas City: St. Pius X Friday (Sept. 21)
By PAUL STURM, C-T Sports Editor
Coming off a stubbornly stingy showing in last week’s initial 2018 victory over Cameron, the Chillicothe High School football Hornets defense tonight will test itself against a much-different offensive style than any it has seen thus far.
Having mastered the Cameron ground game (14 yards on 15 carries), which mostly tried to have a large, relatively-slow back gain yards right up the middle on slow-developing carries, the Hornets (1-3, 1-1 MEC) this week encounter what for decades was a staple of football at most levels – the power-oriented “I” formation – when they visit the St. Pius X Warriors at Kansas City for Midland Empire Conference play.
Running mostly from tackle to tackle and usually with a fullback leading him to the point of attack, 6’2”, 196-pounds tailback Ben Wade of St. Pius X (2-2, 1-1 MEC) will have a large, though imaginary, bullseye on his jersey, Hornets head coach Tim Rulo confirms.
“He really is the focal point of their offense,” the coach says of Wade, who has had a couple of big games in the first month of the season.
“Ben Wade has really answered the bell for us,” acknowledges Rick Byers, long-time SPX head coach. “Hopefully, he can stay healthy and keep it going.”
“You’re going to see a lot of ‘iso,’ power, counter, and fullback trap,” Rulo details the Warriors’ likely play types. “… They’re going to throw some screens and, every once in a while, they’re going to throw a (downfield) pass – a slant or a fade.” Wade also will be slotted or flanked occasionally, as well, for quick throws into the flat to try to get him isolated with a smaller defender in space.
By and large, St Pius X, which has used both senior starter John Liberto and freshman Jack Mosh at quarterback, will come right at Chillicothe’s defense, not try to razzle-dazzle it or test it on the perimeter.
“You’ve just got to be physical,” the Hornets coach said of the task for defensive coordinator Chad Smith’s unit, which largely have faced more-technical and deceptive attacks the first four games of the season.
“When a team’s ‘downhill,’” Rulo says, using the current code word for a power-running offense, “you’ve just got to match them, downhill for downhill.
“… It’s going to be about outlasting them. That was one thing I was really happy about … (in) the Cameron game, we just outlasted those guys. … We’ve got to outlast them and make this more of a 12-round title fight than a 1-round KO.”
Which team is well-enough, health-wise, to survive and prevail might become pivotal to the outcome.
Chillicothe had several players come away gimpy in one manner or another from last week’s initial win under Rulo’s guidance. St Pius, which has only 29 non-freshmen on its roster, had several would-be starters sit out last week’s blowout home loss to Maryville.
“The main thing is our lack of numbers and injuries,” Byers acknowledges the challenges of playing a power-style game. “Versus Maryville, we had five senior starters out, not that (their playing) likely would have won us the game, but it for sure would have helped.
“Hopefully they will be back this week.”
Said Rulo of his squad’s banged-up contingent following Wednesday’s practice, “We’ve got a lot of ‘questionables.’ … I think we’re on the upswing,” citing everyone who had played against Cameron was on the field for at least some work Wednesday.
On the Chillicothe injury front, although he won’t be available for this week’s game, junior running back/defensive lineman Isaih Kille and Rulo reported the 2017 defensive starter is expected to be released Friday to begin practicing and playing again next week. He sustained a knee injury while being tackled in the second quarter of the Hornets’ season opener.
In terms of the defense Chillicothe will test tonight, Rulo reports it usually will be in a 4-3 alignment with aggressive linebackers.
“Their linebackers are really good,” he declares. “They get ‘downhill’ really well.
“We’re going to have to block really well at the second level. Secure the first level, but get our linemen and our (slotbacks) have to block at the second level (several yards beyond the line of scrimmage). We’ve got to do a really good job of that, … because, if not, those guys are going to be in our backfield, creating problems.”
After reviewing video of the Hornets’ victory last week, Byers says Chillicothe’s growth in the altered offense Rulo has integrated was unmistakable.
“They seem to be settling in on the new offense,” he tells the C-T. “The ‘flexbone’ option game will be tough to get (defensed), especially since, like I said, they are really starting to understand it now.”
The Hornets ran the ball 61 times last week against Cameron and two of their backs – fullback Cade Koehly (171 yards) and halfback/wingback Kam Ward (83) more than doubled their yardage totals of the first three contests.
CHS also improved its ball security, not losing any fumbles on offense and throwing one semi-intentional interceptions. That allowed it to extend its possessions, leading to three scoring marches of double-digits plays, including a pair of 15 snaps each.
A “wild card” for tonight’s game could be the weather and field conditions. If it is raining, the “I” formation figures to be less risky and potentially more effective than the Hornets’ option style.
While the SPX field is natural, not synthetic, rain during the day also could affect things – again more likely detrimental to Chillicothe’s field-spreading option than St. Pius X’s straight-ahead ground game.
“The field is in okay shape,” says Byers. “More grass than dirt. All in all, a pretty good surface.”
The last time Chillicothe and St. Pius X met, it was in an important regular-season finale at KC in 2011. The Hornets, who were routed by the Warriors at home the year before that in the programs’ first-ever clash, prevailed 21-13 to qualify for the state playoffs.
Tonight’s game – the middle one of the regular season – will be critical for the Hornets, if they’re going to try to finish in the top four in the Class 3 district and thus host a first-round district-playoffs contest.