UWCHLAN >> During the courting of Cary Angeline over the offseason, University of Southern California tight ends coach and former NFL quarterback Marques Tuiasosopo made his way to Downingtown East.
As if he knew just what to say to reach East coach Mike Matta’s heart, Tuiasosopo began chatting about the off-tackle power play their respective teams run. Not only does USC run power much like East, its coaches call the it “God’s play,” a moniker that Matta and the Cougars were quick to borrow.
Of any of the signature plays run by Ches-Mont League teams, East’s off-tackle power play may be the most obvious one. The Cougars don’t show up on Friday night’s in a Trojan horse, trying to trick teams. They step off the bus with a battering ram named power, overwhelm or bust.
“It’s like an MMA fight,” Matta said. “Someone has to tap out. We spend more time lifting weights than running plays and we run that play to impose our will.”
East is tied for second in the league with 83 victories in the last 10 seasons, with a winning percentage of 70.9. Unlike West Chester Rustin, who has mastered power mostly out of the wing-T formation, East is much more straight-ahead, in your face about it.
The Cougars will run it with two tight ends and a single back. They’ll run it in the I-formation. They’ll motion to the I or they’ll use the motion man to kick out the defensive end. One way or the other, Matta will do whatever it takes presnap to make sure the backside guard and another running back are leading his ball carrier through the off-tackle gap as many times as possible.
“The thing that makes it so good is you know it’s coming and they execute it so well,” Coatesville coach Matt Ortega said. “Power is power and whether they run it 20 times or 40 times, you’re gonna get power. If you have an identity you should be pretty good and it fits the type of kids they have.”
Matta makes no bones that “God’s play” and his overall offensive scheme matches the way he approaches life.
“In 2007 I took over on the offensive side and we wanted more of an identity,” Matta said. “My philosophy is we’re gonna try to punch you in the mouth and ask questions later. We always have those kind of kids. You might not have a Pat Devlin every year, but you always have someone as good as (running backs) Jack Kincade or Keith Conner.”
East is one of the few teams to go through a major offensive overhaul in the last decade and have success with both schemes. In the early days at East, current Great Valley head coach Dan Ellis was the Cougars’ offensive coordinator. He and prized Division 1 quarterback recruit, Devlin, tortured defenses with the spread offense. Devlin broke the state record for career passing yards (8,162, which is now sixth overall but first in Class AAAA), and the Cougars reached their only District 1 championship game in 2005.
On that cold and miserable night, North Penn shut down the prolific passing game and romped their way to another district title. It was then that Matta fell out of love with the spread.
It lasted one more season until Matta, whose coaching resume was largely on the defensive side including stops at the University of Florida and West Chester University, decided it was time for a change.
What came next was a commitment to the weight room and a whole lot of iso, play action and of course power.
“If you run the play effectively, the opponent has to give in,” Matta said. “This play is physical and downhill and defenders start turning up hits if they’re getting beat up and eventually they give in.”
Any team can commit to a physical brand of football, and even a line full of big, strong kids doesn’t guarantee the type of success East has had since the Downingtown split. Matta has had the fortune of some dynamic skill players. From Devlin and Richie Walls to quarterbacks Trey and Kyle Lauletta, running back Drew Harris and pass catchers Jay Harris, Tyler Kroft and most-recently, Angeline.
Devlin spent time with the Miami Dolphins from 2011-2013, and Kroft was drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals in the third round of the 2015 NFL Draft.
At the high school level, East’s finest complemented each other and the schemes they were in. In Matta’s bruising offense, quarterbacks often find single coverage and blown assignments in secondaries that are forced to cheat an extra man toward the line of scrimmage.
“You know what the play is and they are physical enough and big enough,” Downingtown West coach Mike Milano said. “They get a good double team at the point of attack and they’ve had Kroft and Angeline and Harris and some heady quarterbacks to make plays on play action. It’s tough to defend at every level.”
East has had a 1,000-yard runner in each season since 2009 except for 2011, when Drew Harris tore his ACL after racking up 615 yards in the first four games.
With Angeline being arguably East’s most dangerous offensive weapon yet, opponents are as vulnerable as they’ve ever been against the Cougars this upcoming season. Double team Angeline and there’s one less man in the box. Stack the box and try to single cover the kid who can’t be single covered.
It’s going to be a pick your poison kind of season for East foes and tentativeness is no way to take on a bully.
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