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Some minor tweaks to their offensive line have sparked the LaRue County Hawks’ ground game each of the past two weeks.
The Hawks have had three running backs eclipse the 100-yard mark in wins over Class 3-A, District 3 rivals Henry County and Elizabethtown since first-year coach Josh Jaggers made some adjustments up front.
He moved junior Zeke Phelps from center to guard and inserted junior Michael Franklin at center. The moves have paid huge dividends for the Hawks, as seniors Caleb Canter, Kelton Ford and Matthew Hornback have each run for 100-plus yards in the last two weeks.
“(The moves have) helped them all out. It’s allowed them to excel at their strengths,” Jaggers said. “Michael is really good covered up, and Zeke moves and does a lot better when he’s uncovered. Zeke can play tackle or guard, depending on what we see that week. He’s real good at being uncovered and getting on linebackers, so we tried to put Zeke in the position where he can do what he does best.”
LaRue County’s linemen will face their most daunting challenge tonight as the Hawks (4-4) travel to take on top-ranked district foe Louisville Central (7-1).
It’s a challenge the Hawks are up for. On the line is the district’s No. 1 seed. LaRue County has already locked up no worse than the No. 2 seed and a home playoff game.
Ford said that makes it easier for him and his teammates to relish the underdog role against the Yellowjackets, who are coming off back-to-back shutouts of Elizabethtown and Henry County.
“I really like being the underdog,” he said. “We really have nothing to lose. We just have to keep to our strategy and play hard, and good things will happen.”
Like having three backfield mates rush for more than 100 yards for the third straight game, which Ford knows is easier said than done – especially against Central, which is allowing 95.6 rushing yards per game.
The Hawks have averaged 400 yards on the ground in the last two weeks.
“Our line has played two great games back-to-back,” Ford said. “As long as they keep getting us a push up front, we’re going to move the ball. We’re probably not going to outrun a lot of guys (against Central), but pound-for-pound I think we’ll move the ball against them.”
Something else that’s sparked the Hawks has been a switch back to the Wing-T from the hybrid spread Jaggers and the coaching staff implemented over the summer.
When they were in the shotgun, bad quarterback-center exchanges led to a loss of yardage – which in turn, Ford said, caused the Hawks’ confidence to go down.
“Our quarterback and centers have had trouble getting the snaps down and we were losing a lot of yardage and we really couldn’t get the ball moving,” Ford said. “We’d have first down and have a bad snap and it’d be second-and-20 or something like that. It’s hard to convert on second-and-20 when you’re a run-oriented team. Going under the center has really helped us move the ball better.”
While senior quarterback Gabe Shirley is taking snaps from under center instead of the shotgun or pistol formation, Jaggers said the Hawks are running the same offense they’ve been running this season.
“Truth be told, we’re not doing anything under center differently than we were out of the shotgun,” he said. “It’s the same offense and it’s the same plays. It’s just under center and not out of the gun. Putty (Ford) is right; the snaps were a big thing. When you get in the gun, the timing part of it has got to be ‘snap, boom,’ then everything else happens. And that just wasn’t happening very well.”
With better timing between Shirley and Franklin, and with Canter, Ford and Hornback running wild over opponents, Jaggers said the Hawks’ confidence is soaring again.
“I think it gives them some much-needed confidence because we were struggling offensively in the early part of the season,” he said. “We were kind of holding our breath every offensive play, not knowing what was going to happen. So we tried to put the boys in better positions for them to excel, and they’ve done the rest. What we did as coaches were minor changes; it’s all been the boys, and they’ve absolutely performed spectacularly these last couple of weeks.”
Josh Claywell can be reached at (270) 505-1752 or email@example.com.