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ST. PETERSBURG — Nearly every bay area team in the playoffs has some variation of the spread offense, a pass-happy system that has swept football at every level.
Then there’s St. Petersburg.
In an age of shotguns and five receiver sets, the Green Devils are a throwback. They prefer to move the ball the old-fashioned way — by running it down the opposition’s throat.
“It’s what we do,” St. Petersburg coach Joe Fabrizio said.
The Green Devils’ approach has been just as effective as some of the area’s other offenses. St. Petersburg (10-0) ranks 10th in the bay area in total offense but first in rushing yards with 3,305, an average of 331 per game. The offense also has scored a county-best 47 rushing touchdowns.
“I wouldn’t mind throwing the football,” said Fabrizio, who was a receiver in college. “But we want to control the football and control the clock and this is our most successful way of doing it.”
The Green Devils operate out of a run-oriented wing-T that relies on misdirection, many formations and a multitude of backs. St. Petersburg is so dedicated to running the ball that the team has two offensive line coaches and spends about 90 percent of practice going over run-blocking schemes.
Though not a particularly big group, the offensive linemen are extremely mobile for their size, which allows them to pull and block effectively, skills particularly important in an offense that has plenty of traps and sweeps.
“Every team knows what we’re going to do,” offensive lineman Taylon Culbreth said. “But you still have to stop it. In practice and in games, we’re so precise. When it’s running well, it’s a like a well-oiled machine.”
What may look like a lot of pushing and shoving at the line of scrimmage, Fabrizio said, is really an exercise of exquisite timing and footwork.
“The whole offense, particularly along the line, is like a ballet,” Fabrizio said. “There are a lot of intricacies to the whole thing that make it go.”
It helps that St. Petersburg’s line has been together the past two seasons. The group knows each other so well that it can adjust to anything a defense throws at it.
“We’ve seen some funky defenses to try and confuse us,” lineman Tyler Sweetland said. “But we make the adjustments on the fly. I can call out anything and not have to worry because everyone knows what they’re doing.”
The biggest benefactor is running back Rashad Lewis, who has rushed for an area-best 1,604 yards and 26 touchdowns.
“The offensive line is awesome,” Lewis said. “They’re always on assignment. But we don’t care how many yards we have as long as we have more points on the scoreboard than the other team at the end.”