Woodridge football finds running game to beat Coventry
From the outset of season, Woodridge football coach Jeff Decker noted he wanted the Bulldogs' offense to run a bit different than years past.
Long known as a spread-offense squad, Decker looked for the Bulldogs to be more run heavy this season.
It's been elusive, but by switching to a new two-back formation, Woodridge found its running attack — and was able to unleash it against Coventry.
Woodridge scored a 35-28 win at Coventry Oct. 2 to move to 3-3 overall and in the Metro Athletic Conference. The Bulldogs carry a three-game winning streak into the Division IV playoffs.
Decker said a few adjustments led to big results in the running game, as the Bulldogs ran for a total of 299 yards.
"We really focused this week on turning our 4- and 5-yard runs into breakaway runs. If you looked at our offense before, in terms of 4- and 5-yard runs, we were successful, but we never got any big runs to shorten drives," Decker said. "Against Coventry, we were able to do that. I think we had four really long runs of 50 yards or more.
"It was a combination that we got some great great downfield blocking from our receivers, plus we felt good enough with our depth at running back to go to a two-back system."
Decker noted running backs Dayshawn Garr, Haniel Fanka and Owen Snyder each did an excellent job blocking as well as running the ball.
Snyder was the workhorse of the trio, as he finished with 18 carries for 63 yards. Snyder opened the scoring for the Bulldogs with a 1-yard touchdown run in the first quarter.
With the game tied at 7-7 after one quarter, Fanka plunged in from a yard out to make it 14-7 Bulldogs at the half.
Decker joked Fanka did his best Jerome Bettis impression in the game. While Fanka ran for only 9 yards on seven carries, two of those carries went for touchdowns.
"He's definitely a guy that we like to get the ball to near the goal line," Decker said. "He's short, he's thick and he just runs hard."
However, Garr had a breakout game for a the Bulldogs, as he proved to be Woodridge's home run threat.
In the third quarter, Garr broke loose for a 65-yard touchdown run to start the quarter and a 63-yard touchdown run to end the quarter, giving Woodridge a 35-21 lead after three.
Garr finished with a career-high 199 yards on just 12 carries and also played an excellent game on the defensive line.
"He had 199 yards, and over on the defensive side of the ball, he was disruptive to their offense," Decker said. "In the entire second half, the number of plays he came off may have been zero. When you're a small school like us, you've got to have some two-way players like that."
Woodridge had a chance to put the game away in the fourth quarter, but a fumble led to Coventry driving the other way.
A 35-yard touchdown pass from Chase Rankin to Chris Wilcox cut the lead to 35-28.
Decker said the Bulldogs still need to solidify their pass defense, as Rankin went 20-of-35 for 249 yards with three touchdowns and one pick.
However, Woodridge's ground game worked to perfection after the touchdown to run out the clock.
"My favorite drive of game was the last drive," Decker said. "There was more four minutes left, and we just kept getting first down after first down to run out the clock.
"With the exception of one year, every game we've played with Coventry has been tight," Decker added.
Brenden Longwell led Coventry with 20 carries for 100 yards.
While the Bulldogs were focused on running the ball, quarterback Ben Kiser still had some impact on the game, going 6-of-11 for 118 yards with one interception.
Kamari Mitchell had another solid game with three catches for 81 yards.
"When we had to make a play, we had it," Decker said. "I think Kamari Mitchell had two receptions for more than 40 yards, which put us deep in their territory."
Woodridge was set to open the Division IV, Region 13 playoffs by traveling to Girard Oct. 10. It's the first time the Bulldogs have faced the Indians since beating Girard in the 2009 regional semifinals.
"Looking at their stats, they don't look like a 2-4 team," Decker said of the Indians. "They're quite a bit better than their record would suggest."
The winner of the contest will play top-seeded Canal Fulton Northwest Oct. 17.