DEKALB — Those who deride the Wing-T offense call it boring, dreary, predictable.
The coaches of the teams who will play for the Class 4A title Friday night beg to differ.
Murphysboro (11-2) and Richmond-Burton (13-0) both use the Wing-T, but not in its standard form, which features two running backs, a wingback, a tight end and a wide receiver. The Red Devils run it from the pistol formation, which involves a shotgun snap, and Rockets coach Mike Noll calls his team’s version of it the “west coast Wing-T.”
“We throw more than most Wing-T teams, and we break formations more than Wing-T teams,” Noll said. “They execute the pistol Wing-T at a very high level. This is a fun offense. It’s a misunderstood offense. It’s always been a good offense.”
Noll also pointed out that Auburn and Clemson incorporate some principles of the Wing-T into their spread attacks, saying that many modern offenses simply borrow concepts that were already in places years ago from Wing-T sets.
Murphysboro coach Gary Carter, a long-time Wing-T guy himself, was actually listening in on Noll’s teleconference Monday when he started waxing poetic about the offense.
“We’re not a pure Wing-T team ourselves,” Carter said. “It’s not all you can do out of this offense. You can run option out of it, or feature your quarterback in the passing game. A lot of football today, teams got from the single wing and the Wing-T.”
The Red Devils’ version of the Wing-T had to take more flight than usual on Saturday at Effingham, where a muddy field made cutting virtually impossible. Quarterback Jamarr McZeke came through with 130 yards on 8 of 12 passing, including the winning touchdown to Jake Hoppenstedt in overtime.
It’s the second postseason game in which McZeke has thrown for more than 100 yards, a true sign that Murphysboro isn’t a one-dimensional team.
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“Very good quarterback,” Noll said of McZeke. “I’m impressed with what I’ve seen. And they may have the most team speed of anyone we’ve faced this year.”
The Red Devils won’t have to worry about slipping in the mud on the turf field at Huskie Stadium. Then again, Richmond-Burton doesn’t exactly field a roster of plodders, either, and the turf figures to make it a step quicker.
Carter is also worried about the Rockets’ size, and with good reason. Their offensive line averages 6-3, 256 pounds per man, giving them a 54-pound advantage per man over the Murphysboro defensive line.
“They’re just big up front, and we have to hopefully do some things where they can’t block us,” Carter said. “They can run jets and get outside on it. It’s weird going up against our offense, but it comes down to the trenches a little bit.”
Both teams offer several threats in the run game. Richmond-Burton is led by fullback Dalton Wood, who’s run for 1,600 yards and 32 touchdowns, but has also gotten 961 yards on just 77 carries from Nicholas Legnaioli.
Dezmond Clark paces the Red Devils’ ground game with 1,110 yards and 16 touchdowns, numbers which would be much bigger if he had played in the second half more often. Murphysboro put a running clock into play five times in the regular season.
Hoppenstedt (549 yards, 9 TDs) and the three-headed fullback combo of Zane Caraway (409), Aiden McNitt (363) and Kevin Kirkwood (362) can’t be ignored. McZeke doesn’t run often, but does an excellent job of faking and has shown the ability to pick up critical yards with his feet.
The Red Devils didn’t make many mistakes at Effingham, throwing a meaningless interception and only drawing three penalties for 25 yards. It will take that kind of attention to detail for them, along with a few big plays, to beat an opponent that has outscored its foes by a whopping 562-80.
“You can’t put the ball on the ground against a team of this caliber,” Carter said. “You have to hit on all cylinders, or it won’t turn out good for you. I believe that if we play well, and they not play so well, then it might turn out well for us.”