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TAMPA —So far this season, stopping coach Brian Turner’s patented triple-option offense has been about as frustrating as a game of whack-a-mole.
When Cary White, Sickles’ leading rusher from 2009, went down with an ankle injury in the second game of the season, Brieann Dollard came to the forefront and led the Gryphons through three games with 443 yards on 41 carries.
And when Dollard left Sickles’ game last week with an ankle injury, Lee Myers stepped up and finished with 105 yards. Entering Friday’s district showdown between Sickles and Largo, with the winner gaining the upper hand in the Class 4A, District 10 race, the Packers can be sure of one thing: The Gryphons are going to run the ball, and they will do it effectively no matter who is coming out of the backfield.
“You can stop one guy, but the other two guys can have big games. It’s really hard to stop,” said quarterback John Melvin Hendrick, whose two rushing and three passing touchdowns have added another level of difficulty for opposing defenses. “It should give people fits back there because we have a lot of people that can make plays at any point of the game.”
That ability to function with interchangeable pieces is part of the reason the Gryphons’ rushing attack has been so potent this season. While Turner said it certainly helps to have two Division I-A-caliber players like White and Dollard, the triple-option offense can work with any number of the athletes Sickles has at its disposal.
Turner said White and Dollard, both with ankle injuries, will be game-time decisions tonight. With that in mind, Turner used a number of different players at running back during practice in case Sickles has to fill another hole in the backfield in arguably its biggest game of the season against a run-stopping Largo defense that has allowed just 283 rushing yards in three games.
“If we happen to win, we know the season’s not over. But it would be big because they’re the defending district champs, and they beat us last year,” Turner said. “They’ve been an elite team in the state for four or five years now, so this is a big game for our program.”
Turner admits his offense is somewhat basic — Sickles will run a dive, a quarterback keeper or a pitch outside on nearly every play — but execution and athleticism have made it extremely effective so far. Throw in a seemingly endless supply of capable ballcarriers, and it’s easy to understand why the Gryphons have been racking up yards on the ground and running all over opponents.
“We have a lot of kids that can carry the football,” Turner said. “It’s just hard (to stop) when you have so many good backs, plus our quarterback can run the ball. It’s a good problem to have.”
Evolution of the triple-option
First-year Sickles coach Brian Turner, son of all-time county wins leader Billy Turner, learned the flexbone, triple-option offense from Georgia Tech coaches in 2008 while the Yellow Jackets were recruiting Chamberlain QB Dontae Aycock. As Turner says, “you learn from the best,” but he has gradually implemented a few tweaks of his own.
• As Chamberlain’s offensive coordinator, Turner adapted GT’s triple option into a QB-oriented scheme and helped the Chiefs reach the region final in 2008.
• Turner continued fine tuning the offense to account for high school defenses that “don’t always do what they’re supposed to do” and to better suit smaller, more athletic offensive linemen. “With our skill guys, we could run a lot of different offenses,” he said. “But with our line that we have — and we have a good line, it’s just not big — it helps what we’re doing.
• Turner didn’t have to change the offense much in the transition from Chamberlain to Sickles, but the Gryphons’ bevy of talented running backs has provided him more options, greater depth and a RB-focused rushing attack.