Milano’s signature trap play has led Downingtown West to success

DOWNINGTOWN >> In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Strath Haven forced a lot of teams to adapt on their way to back-to-back PIAA Class AAA state titles and four straight state championship game appearances.

Mike Milano was one of those coaches dealing with the mighty Panthers as the head coach of Penncrest High.

“When I got to Penncrest our archival was Strath Haven because they were district and state champs and we shared Media,” said Milano, who is entering his 13th season as head coach of Downingtown West. “We ended up doing 10-minute periods every practice against sweep, trap and waggle to prepare for them, and after two years our seconds were making so many plays against our starting defense that we added those schemes of the wing-T and morphed it with our belly option.”

Milano’s offense has become one of the most dynamic and explosive versions in the Ches-Mont League and throughout District 1. As a result, the Whippets have amassed the fifth-most wins (77) in the Ches-Mont League in the last 10 seasons, winning 68 percent of their games.

While it’s harder to pinpoint a signature play for West than the other top local teams, the consensus was their quick-hitting trap play.

“Downingtown West is all window dressing,” Coatesville coach Matt Ortega said. “They have so many motions to catch your eye and get you moving laterally that they can hit you right up the gut and do a great job. They’re so multiple with so many shifts, it’s hard to prepare for.”

The trap is meant to hit fast, right into the belly of the defense. Typically the backside guard pulls and kicks out the defensive tackle, with the fullback taking the handoff right through the created seam.

Rarely does it lose yardage, and if teams get too focused on West’s outside attack, backs like Jake Barr and Michael Riddick have gashed defenses. While many fullbacks are bulkier and often a tad slower than tailbacks, West has used runners like Jake and his brother Zach Barr to get to the second level quicker.

“There are a lot of ways to get that play, and if it’s a good play, we emphasize it and it keeps people honest I think,” Milano said. “We get people defending the edge and then bust them inside. I think our trap play became most effective with Zach Barr. With our jet sweep, teams had to defend the flank and trap up inside.”

Zach Barr by far has the most rushing yards in recent Whippet history, collecting 1,436, as well as 19 touchdowns, in 2011. No rusher has reached the 1,000-yard mark since, largely due to the way Milano’s offense spreads out touches.

The quarterback position has gone a long way in dictating how the offense fires. Quarterbacks Nolan Kearney and Bret Gillespie added a vertical threat to stretch the field, similar to what Tyler McNulty did last fall. Nick Pagel quarterbacked the Whippets to their only outright National Division title in 2013, and he was a scrappy mix of run and pass that was very effective.

What makes West’s offense so difficult to defend is its unpredictability. Milano will run many of the same core plays out of so many different formations, and almost every play has a presnap motion. No one runs more running back screens than Milano and no one loves a trick play as much, either. With all that to process for the defense, the trap can often be like a knife to the gut of a wounded defense.

“Their trap always hits a different gap,” Downingtown East coach Mike Matta said. “You can’t lean into too much stuff because you’re worried about the option runs. And they run just enough option and wing-T that if you get up field too much (Milano) is very good at knowing just when to call trap. It’s a great complement to all the other stuff he does and when you start to rob Peter to pay Paul he’ll hit trap on you.”

Unlike East and Coatesville, West has not been blessed with an abundance of Division 1 recruits. Certainly that goes into Milano’s style, which would be considered more finesse than power.

“We can win with 150-pound guards with what we’re doing with our scheme and the angles it creates,” Milano said. “We can hide size on our offense.”

NATE HECKENBERGER — 21st Century Media A diagram of a trap play installed by Downingtown West head coach Mike Milano, which has helped the Whippets win 77 games over the past 10 seasons.
NATE HECKENBERGER — 21st Century Media
A diagram of a trap play installed by Downingtown West head coach Mike Milano, which has helped the Whippets win 77 games over the past 10 seasons.

While that has at times haunted them against division rivals, it has given the Whippets a chance against non-league foes who rarely see West’s frenetic, wide open style. West has won 71 percent of their non-division games in the last 10 seasons, compared to 66 percent in division contests.

Though they were on the wrong side of a 63-55 game against top-seeded Pennsbury in the opening round of the 2014 District 1 Class AAAA playoffs, the 6-4, undersized Whippets scored a quarter of the total amount of points the Falcons gave up their entire 15-game season.

“Mike (Matta) and I are the old dogs in the league now, and we know each other so well,” Milano said. “When we get a chance to play Ridley or Neshaminy or Pennsbury, I know guys share info from the three games we share, but stuff we have to keep on the shelf against well-known opponents we can bring out again.”

It’s no coincidence that the top five winningest teams in the Ches-Mont over the last 10 seasons have had a combined six coaches, and as long as Milano is around his offense will continue to befuddle defenses.

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