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Carroll-Heights football game offers contrasting styles on offense

Published August 29 at 5:57 p.m. | Last updated August 29 at 5:59 p.m.

There’s little mystery to the Heights and Bishop Carroll offenses heading into Thursday night’s season opener at Carpenter Stadium.

Carroll will rely heavily on its passing game with senior Zeke Palmer. Heights will run and run. Then run some more.

And yet, even with that knowledge, the defenses have the toughest jobs.

“What do we want to take away from them?” asked Heights coach Rick Wheeler, whose team is ranked fifth in Class 6A. “Because when you take away something (with your defense), you provide other things that open up. That’s what happens to us. They can put two guys on our quarterback or the dive back or whatever their scheme involves. Our job is to find out what they are leaving open for us.”

It’s exactly that which makes Thursday night’s matchup between the City League’s top two teams so fascinating. What will open up? Where will the big plays come from?

Carroll coach Alan Schuckman, whose team is ranked first in Class 5A, has run the spread offense since he was hired 17 years ago. The spread was a rarity in a time when virtually every team had three backs ready for a handoff. Schuckman stuck with the spread, which exploded in popularity, although he’s added wrinkles. Carroll can come out of the shotgun, no-huddle, it changes tempos.

That offense has been ridiculously successful. Seven of the City League’s top regular-season passing totals are by Carroll quarterbacks, including senior Zeke Palmer, whose 1,589 yards over nine games in 2011 ranks No. 7.

Because the system is firmly in place, Carroll has been able to groom its quarterbacks from the start. As a freshman, Palmer ran some of the varsity offense.

“Sophomore year, that’s where you really hit it big, trying to soak up all the offense,” Palmer said. “Trying to adjust to the speed of the game, picking up the offense. Coaches for (junior varsity) do a good job making sure you learn it.”

Palmer has so many options.

“We’ve evolved,” Schuckman said. “We’re pretty multiple. We can get in the I, get in the three-back, we can do a lot of things. When we get in the (shotgun) and spread and read, read, option, that’s a triple-option, as well. Just out of a different set.”

Heights’ offense is all about confusing the defenses, using the line to pull this way or that and then the quarterback either hands off, keeps or pitches.

“It’s like a pitch to a halfback,” Wheeler said. “It may look like a pitch to the halfback, but it could have went to the fullback or the quarterback could have kept it. It’s where the progression took the play.”

Wheeler hasn’t always used this offense, which he calls the flex bone but is often referred to as the veer or the triple option.

Heights used the spread offense in 2005 and 2006 when quarterback Cameron Kasel threw for 2,462 and 2,247 yards, ranking No. 2 and 3 in City League passing totals.

Heights is firmly entrenched in the flex bone now and it fits the Falcons, but it took a rival coach to plant the seed.

It was before a 2006 playoff game against Hutchinson, which also runs the flex bone, that Wheeler remembers Hutchinson coach Randy Dreiling say, “I bet it’s easier to find my style of quarterback in your building than it is to find your style of quarterback in your building.”

Wheeler realized Dreiling was right. Heights has athletic, speedy players, perfect for exploiting defenses with a triple-option offense.

Heights senior Chris Reed is running the Falcons’ offense, taking over for Top 11 selection Matt Reed, who has graduated.

“Chris Reed may be the better athlete,” Wheeler said. “I know, it’s hard to believe. But he doesn’t have the experiences in the offense that Matt did. Matt could work himself out of a lot of situations because he had experienced it so many times…. But Chris understands the reads. Athletically he’s very gifted and he has a good understanding of the offense.”