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Old School: Elk County Catholic Brings Single-wing Attack to Redbank Valley

NEW BETHLEHEM, Pa. (EYT/D9) — It’s an offense out of the black-and-white newsreel days of football.

A throwback to Pop Warner. A callback to Jim Thorpe.

But here in 2021, the Elk County Catholic football team runs its offense out of the single-wing formation that was made famous by Warner more than a century ago.

(Photo by Shelly Atzeni)

The Crusaders hope their old-school offense will be good enough to keep the high-powered and modern one at Redbank Valley off the field when the two teams clash Friday night on the bank of the Redbank Creek.

“We’re talking about going back to the origins of football,” said Redbank coach Blane Gold. “They’re using their quarterback as a lead blocker. Direct snaps to the fullback and tailback. Everything is within the hashes — no one is lined up outside the hashes. We have to be good with the misdirection they run off of that and stay keyed in on our assignments.”

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Elk County has been running that kind of offense for several years. First year coach Nick Werner saw no need to change it. It’s been working — the Crusaders are off to a 2-0 start after a 20-6 win at Bucktail and a 13-12 triumph last week at home over Coudersport.

This isn’t your great-grandfather’s single-wing, however. ECC has shown the ability to strike with big pass plays this season with freshman quarterback Ben Paul.

Paul connected with junior Joe Tettis on a 78-yard TD in the win over Bucktail. Last week, Paul tossed a 58-yard touchdown to Ben Reynolds.

“Ben Paul has been playing really well,” Werner said. “We look at the matchups and see what we have. We’re kind of using a couple more modern ideas to it, too.”

This week, Gold found it was difficult to prepare for an offense that is hardly used these days.

Scout team players can’t learn the ins and outs of the formation quickly enough to simulate it properly in practice, so Gold and his Bulldogs have had to take a more cerebral approach.

“It’s really a lot more teaching and mental reps than anything else,” Gold said. “It’s one of those weeks as a coach, you do kind of get that uneasy feeling because during your team period, you weren’t really able to go all out and go full speed just because you can’t expect ninth-graders to run the single-wing when they’ve never seen it before.

“They are the definition of four yards and a cloud of dust,” Gold added. “It’s really important you get those stops. It’s important that we’re keeping it at three yards or less per play.”

Redbank’s offense couldn’t be more different.

While ECC likes to grind it out, Redbank (1-1) spreads it out, plays fast and tries to get the football into the hands of its plethora of playmakers.

That approach worked well last week in a 59-6 win over Otto-Eldred. Senior Bryson Bain threw for 249 yards and five touchdowns. He already has seven TD passes this season.

Chris Marshall caught three of Bain’s TD strikes last week and leads the team with nine receptions for 156 yards and four scores.

Getting off to a fast start is even more important this week for Redbank, given Elk County’s offensive style.

“Even when they lose, you don’t typically see blowout losses because even if they’re not scoring a ton of points, they’re eating a ton of clock,” Gold said. “Even if they go on a 60-yard drive and don’t score, they’re eating a ton of clock, which is why the last two matchups we’ve won, they’ve always been tight games. What they do offensively limits what we do offensively. We don’t get as many possessions a game.”

Elk County’s defense has also been stout this year.

That unit preserved the one-point win against Coudersport last week with a stop on a 2-point conversion late in the fourth quarter.

“I’m very proud of the guys,” Werner said. “We’ve been working very hard the last two weeks.”

“When it comes down to it, we do have pride. We do have guts,” Werner added. “We can make a stop when we need it.”

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Redbank Valley, Keystone, and Union/A-C Valley sports coverage on Explore and is brought to you by Heeter Lumber.