Football games are often said to be won and lost at the line of scrimmage. And if you think about it, it makes sense. Two teams with opposite objectives — one to score and the other to stop them — war over a small piece of territory about a foot wide, known as the line of scrimmage.
Based on about 60 or so battles throughout the game, a winner is determined, depending on whom “owned” the line of scrimmage more often, to maintain drives and score touchdowns.
A team can win more of these battles and still lose the game because of turnovers or missed tackles. But, by and large, the team that wins the battle for the line of scrimmage wins more often than not.
On Sept. 15, Indian River’s football team proved this century-old football theory right by dominating the time of possession — 26:19, compared to Stephen Decatur’s 14:41 — and tallying 78 offensive plays for 400 yards of total offense in a 31-14 win over Stephen Decatur.
Since three of five starters on last year’s offensive line graduated and Phillip Townsend moved to wide receiver, only senior captain Steve Alessi returned to his old spot. But a preseason injury to Alessi’s medial collateral ligament cost him the first two games of the 2006 season, leaving all five offensive-line positions open for competition.
Most of this year’s line started on the junior varsity team or had a reserve role on last year’s Henlopen Conference championship team, and many were left questioning whether or not this new group could fill the empty shoes at the varsity level.
“It think a lot of questions have been answered about a lot of these kids,” Indian River quarterback Nick Kmetz said this week. “Our offensive line played great. All week we heard about how much Stephen Decatur blitzes, but I had all the time in the world. I could see and do whatever I wanted.”
The Indians’ offensive line play was so good that Kmetz was only hit once while he completed 13 of 18 passes for 105 yards and squeezed just inside the pylon to score the Indians’ first touchdown on a 9-yard scamper.
When they ran the sprint-out pass, Indian River’s offensive line shifted to and fro as easily as King Philip’s II ancient Macedonian phalanx, and they blasted holes open like William the Conqueror’s heavy cavalry during their famed win at the Battle of Hastings.
The Indians’ offensive line were indeed the engine that powered three scoring drives over 10 plays and twice held the ball on six-minute drives.
Sophomore running back Isaiah Phillips nearly topped the 100-yard mark for the second straight week, with 97 yards on 22 carries and 20 in the first half, and senior running back Dominic Morris broke out after seeing two carries against Cape Henlopen for 93 yards and adding a touchdown with only six carries. Morris rattled off a 64-yard touchdown run at the beginning of the fourth quarter to top off the Indians’ 31-14 win, though both backs fumbled twice and lost one apiece.
Fullback Perry Townsend registered the tough yards, but it seemed even tougher going for the defense that was trying to stop him. Townsend never went down on the initial hit and dragged most of the Stephen Decatur defense on his back on each of his eight carries. His first run went for 26 yards and he also registered an 11-yard touchdown run for his 64-yard total, while reeling in two catches for 25 yards.
“Perry’s one of those kids that looks for the kid with the other color jersey just to hit him,” Bunting said. “They [Perry and his brother, Phillip] play at that different level.”
Stephen Decatur, on the other hand, couldn’t move the ball against Indian River’s stingy defense. They had only nine first-half plays resulting in two, three and outs, and two fumbles — one of which was returned 16 yards for a touchdown by Josh Hitchens. Phillip Townsend forced the other fumble and Zac Kmetz fell on it to give Indian River the possession.
Stephen Decatur tried to run the hurry-up offense in the second half but had only limited success. Stephen Decatur completed three of six second-half passes for 52 yards, but IRHS safety Nick Kmetz ended their bid to cut the lead to possibly 10 points. He basically ended the game (24-6 at the time) by intercepting a deep pass at the Indian River 15-yard line.
The Indians will host Washington High School on Sept. 22 to conclude their portion of non-conference games until, they hope, the state tournament. But Bunting is adamant that, despite his team’s success thus far, they have plenty of fine-tuning to do.
He expressed some concern over his backs not carrying out their fakes, linemen not getting enough push off the line or rolling their hips under the block, and his receivers’ route running. But Bunting reaffirmed that this week would be the last before the race for the Southern Henlopen crown begins in earnest.
“We told our kids, ‘This is the game that we get our blocking right or get low enough off the line,’” Bunting said. “This is the week we run our routes correctly and carry out our fakes.
“We like one-on-one match ups, but if our running backs don’t carry out our fakes, then it doesn’t hold that linebacker. Then we have a two-on-one situation instead of a one-on-one,” he continued.
“Ultimately, we want to improve each week, and I think our maturation is right where we want it,” Bunting said of his offensive line’s play. “We have confidence. I don’t want a swagger yet. They’re still young pups, but they’ve done a great job.”
Indian River will travel to Washington High School on Sept. 22 for a 7 p.m. kickoff. Indian River’s junior varsity team will square off with Sussex Central’s squad on Sept. 25 at 4 p.m.