Spread offense giving defenses fits

Carey's Ray Catapano looks for the open receiver Carey's Ray Catapano looks for the open receiver against Garden City. (Oct. 5, 2013) Photo Credit: Patrick E. McCarthy

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Gregg Sarra Newsday Columnist Gregg Sarra

Gregg Sarra is Newsday's high school sports columnist and writer. ...

Trending today . . . spread formations and big numbers. Week to week, we are seeing eye-popping statistics in high school football. Nothing comes as a surprise anymore as defensive coordinators burn the midnight oil looking for solutions.

Records that seemed untouchable are going down at a record pace. As the spread offense gained favor in the past decade, all of the old passing records have been broken and broken again as offensive coordinators expand the playbook and stretch the field. Defenses are forced to defend the entire field now.

"You're going to continue to see outrageous offensive numbers," said East Islip coach Sal J. Ciampi. "The defense is at a complete disadvantage because they don't have the time and the reps in the preseason to get ready. There are a multitude of reasons why offense is virtually unstoppable."

Ciampi makes a good point and cites practice reps. Quarterbacks and receivers can practice all year round and work on timing and pass routes and developing a rapport between skill players and quarterbacks. There are no rules that prohibit guys from having a catch. They can also attend passing camps and participate in seven-on-seven tournaments.

Defensive backs can work on coverage but can't work on tackling. They are limited to five days of full-contact practice before the first scrimmage.

"What makes you good defensively is putting the pads on and being physical," Ciampi said. "We can't hit as much under the archaic rules we play under. We are so concerned about injury and concussions but we don't spend enough time on teaching proper tackling techniques."

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The athletic quarterbacks have exploited defensive units. And that's because the game is being played more in space, more spread out. The majority of teams are employing more one-back sets and the formations are becoming more challenging to the defense. It's happening everywhere from the youth level right through the college ranks and the NFL.

This week's showtime performance came in North Babylon. West Islip quarterback Sam Ilario torched the North Babylon defense for 440 total yards. He accounted for all six of the Lions touchdowns, throwing for four scores and running for two more in a 42-35 shootout.

It was his show brought to you by the spread offense.

Other examples of the spread's effectiveness came at Carey, where quarterback Ray Catapano led the Seahawks past defending champion Garden City, 28-0. Despite Saturday's loss to Plainedge, the spread has helped Lawrence quarterback Joe Capobianco become Long Island's all-time leader in career touchdown passes with 79.

After 25 years of the triple option, powerhouse St. Anthony's went to the spread and continues to pound opponents in the CHSFL with a 4-0 league record. Sayville scored 44 points with freshman quarterback Jack Coan running the spread against previously unbeaten Huntington. It's everywhere and the offensive numbers are striking.

Conditioning is also a key element in the success of the spread, which can also use a faster pace with a no-huddle offense. As the defense stands hands on hips reeling from the constant play-calling with little time to catch a breath, teams drive the field.

"There is no time to regroup after a big play," Ciampi said. "It can be exhausting. You have to match that stamina and that torrid pace."

Sayville's Steven Ferreira was a master at changing plays at the line and getting the right play call in the spread. He threw for 73 touchdowns and led Sayville to a Long Island Class III title in 2011.

In the days of the wishbone backfields and the veer and full house offenses, defenders would stack the box to stop the run. What will they do to solve the spread?

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