By Kyle LoJacono
The Bishop McLaughlin football team entered the season with the plans to use a pass-heavy spread offense to outduel the opposition, but two losses to start the year forced a change.
The Hurricanes (4-3) still have the spread package, but have added a smash-mouth running attack to control the clock, punish opponents and keep the defense honest.
“We can come out with four wide receivers, we can come out in the I-formation, we can come out with a reverse wishbone and we’ve started to use two tight ends,” said ‘Canes coach Derrick Alexander. “We’ve got some really good wide receivers and running backs, and most teams don’t see all those things all the time. It’s forcing them to adjust all the time.”
Bishop McLaughlin attempted 60 passes for 442 yards in its first two contests while rushing only 36 times for 118.
In its next four, the ‘Canes averaged 28.25 carries for 209.5 yards, 7.42 per attempt, while passing only 11 times per contest for 107.75.
“We’ve got a lot of athletes who can run the ball, and it just gives us another dimension of the offense,” said junior quarterback RJ Perciavalle. “They can’t just drop everyone into coverage. They have to respect the run, and that makes the pass game a lot easier because they have to respect the run.”
The Hurricanes have four players with at least 100 rushing yards through the first six games this year: senior Sammy Sullivan (282 yards, three scores); senior Austin Meyers (250 yards, six scores); senior Colton Nussel (185 yards, two scores); Perciavalle (114 yards, three scores). Alexander said senior Justin Bentancourt (83 yards) has also added to the backfield.
“We set goals before the season, and we created like a brotherhood in the backfield,” Sullivan said. “We always support each other and give each other tips on what we have to do. It makes us all better players and a better person.”
The 5-foot-9.5, 205-pound Sullivan’s powerful style has been a big reason why the ‘Canes have found a running game.
“He’s been a tremendous athlete for us coming over from Sunlake,” Alexander said. “He’s a hard worker, and he’s actually the strongest person on our team. He benches 330 (pounds), and that’s pretty good for a person who’s 200 pounds.”
Sullivan said being able to plow through defenses is one of his favorite parts of the game.
“I take a lot of pride in that as a bigger guy,” Sullivan said. “Anyone who lays the wood on the opponent really fires up your team. Just like a great catch would, running over the other guy can just boost the entire team.”
Sullivan speaks like a football lifer, but this is actually the first season he’s taken to the gridiron since playing in eighth grade at Rushe Middle.
“I switched schools just for the school,” Sullivan said. “I played golf the last three years, and didn’t play any football. … My history teacher at Sunlake, Mr. (Colin) Taylor, I heard him tell another kid that if he has a chance to play football it would be now, because if you’re not going to be playing at the next level you’re not going to play at all. I really thought about that. I’m a huge football fan. I wanted to give it one more shot.”
The ability to run the ball has also helped shorten games and given Bishop McLaughlin’s defense a chance to shut down the opposition. The ‘Canes allowed 64 points in their first two games, but gave up just 38 in the next four.
“Our defense has been strong all year, but in some of those early games they were getting tired because we’d throw a couple incompletions and punt the ball before they could get rested on the sidelines,” Alexander said. “Now they can catch their breath while we run over teams.”
Sullivan has also been a big cog in the Hurricanes’ defense. The middle linebacker has a team-high 70 tackles while forcing four fumbles.
Alexander said he feels like they are gaining momentum as the postseason approaches.
“I think we’re still on track to accomplish our ultimate goal, which is to make it to the playoffs like we did last year,” Alexander said. “The team is starting to gel a little bit. The first two games we were playing well defensively, but we just couldn’t put any points on the board. Now we’ve been able to run the ball a lot better, and that’s given the defense more opportunity to play well.”
Bishop closes the regular season with home conference games against Vero Beach Master’s Academy Oct. 26 and Haines City Landmark Christian Nov. 2, each at 7:30 p.m. Wins in both league games would clinch a playoff berth.
—Follow Kyle LoJacono on Twitter: @Kyle_Laker