Indian River running backs Isaiah Phillips and Dominique Morris have added a dimension to this year’s varsity team. It’s one that they missed last season and since Therman Hagans played for the Indians in the fall 2004 season: speed.
Last year’s team featured a bullish running game led by Matt Williamson, Josh Gott and Perry Townsend, leaving the Indians only scat-back Danny Veith as a viable running back with game-breaker speed.
Indians head coach Jim Bunting characterized his running game last year as “4 yards and a cloud of smoke.” And he wasn’t too far off the truth.
Williamson’s 845 yards, five 100-yard games and 11 touchdowns led the team, but he averaged 5.5 yards per carry.
Gott ranked fourth in the state in yards per game (126.6 ypg) and averaged a team-high 8.7 yard per carry, but a mid-season knee injury ended his season and high school career.
The Indians tallied only 19 runs over 15 yards last season, which resulted in grinding 15-, 16- and 17-play scoring drives. But the addition of Phillips and Morris has given them a threat to score on every carry.
“Last year, we had power-backs who were converted lineman,” Bunting said. “We were more a power-I and come-right-at-you type of team. But this year, we’re much faster. We’ve been a totally different team, which is nice because we not as much of ball-controlling team.”
The Indians’ staple running play, no matter the formation, is the toss-sweep; and thus far, Phillips and Morris haven’t disappointed coaches, teammates and fans with their ability.
In Indian River’s 49-12 win over Lake Forest on Oct. 6, Phillips — who is only a sophomore and hasn’t played organized football since eighth grade — averaged 21.5 yards per carry on only four carries and scored one touchdown. He rattled off runs of 17, 23 and 25 yards, a 20-yard touchdown. He also had a 33-yard run negated on a holding penalty.
“Our backs have the speed to score at any time,” senior captain and offensive guard Steve Alesi said. “Their ability makes it so that we don’t have really long sustained drives like we did last year.”
“And if we are in a second down and 13 or 15 yards, we don’t have to feel pressured to pass the ball. Our backs have the ability to gain 20 yards or so on one run and that keeps the defense guessing,” Alesi added.
Through five games, Phillips has nearly eclipsed last year’s total for runs over 15 yards, with 12, and now leads the team with 455 yards and seven rushing touchdowns.
Morris, a Sussex Tech transfer last year, didn’t play football last season and finally received his first carry of the 2006 football season in a 31-14 win over Stephen Decatur on Sept. 15.
Morris carried the ball six times that game, for 93 yards and a touchdown, and since then he’s made the most of his opportunities. Through the second and fourth games, Morris had totaled only 13 carries, but against Lake Forest he ended up leading the team in rushing yards for the first time all season. He gained 97 rushing yards on only five carries, and scored his second and third touchdowns of the year.
Currently, he has 220 rushing yards on only 18 carries, which leads the team, with 12.2 yards per carry.
Phillips and Morris combined have accounted for 675 of Indian River’s 1,146 rushing yards this season.
Defense fills the middle for an injured Townsend
Since converting from offensive guard to a split end receiver, Phillip Townsend has shown why the Indian River coaching staff wanted to move him to a skill position: He has the speed and toughness to make plays in the open field.
Through the first five games, Townsend has scored twice on long running plays (40 and 19 yards, respectively) including a 19-yard touchdown run against Lake Forest. He tallied another 40-yard run later in the game but his third carry didn’t prove to be the charm.
Townsend suffered what may be a season-ending knee injury after he tried to ram his way for positive yardage on a counter to the back side of Lake Forest’s defense.
Bunting mentioned that, as of Oct. 11, Townsend had seen an orthopedic doctor and that the swelling in his knee has gone down — but the extent of the damage won’t be fully recognized until he has an MRI. As of Coastal Point press time, Townsend was not expected to play in tonight’s game against Delmar.
Bunting noted that a number of players will shift positions or see significant playing time in Townsend’s absence.
Sophomore linebacker Sean Lynch, senior middle linebacker Mike Casale and Morris will see significant time, as well as anyone else Bunting and his coaching staff feels compelled to try out.
“We’re going to play around with the personnel,” Bunting said. “We don’t look at this like a one- or two-man team,” he noted, referring to the Townsend twins. “We see this as a program, encompassing a whole lot of people.”
“We’ve had a great week of team practice and the kids are geared up to take on the challenge,” Bunting said, referring to replacing Phillip Townsend and defeating Delmar.
Indian River (5-0) will travel to Delmar (5-0) on Oct. 13 for a 7:30 p.m. kickoff.