Falcons open up their passing attack

September 22, 2010 — by Karthik Annaamalai and Abhishek Venkataramana

As traditionally one of the smaller-sized teams of the California Central Coast Section (CCS), the Falcons have always been able to take advantage of their determination and stellar ground attack to match up against bigger and stronger teams of the De Anza Division. But this year, third year coach Tim Lugo has another secret weapon up his sleeve, which he believes may throw off some of his competitors.

“If you check online right now,” Lugo said, “you’ll see that Saratoga is the No. 2 passing team in the CCS. I told my guys to take a picture of that, because that’s really something.”

What Lugo is referring to is the team’s thriving passing game, anchored by the super-star duo of senior quarterback Kevin Smith and senior receiver Chris Guengerich, who are both ranked first in the De Anza league for passing yards in their respective positions. Though Lugo maintains that the Falcons will be primarily a running team and use the Wing T offense, an offensive formation used by power running teams, he believes that by establishing a passing threat, they will be able to open up more opportunities for the ground attack.

“We’re still running Wing T and always will run Wing T, but we’re more diverse now,” said Lugo. “We’re taking advantage of [Guengerich] spreading the field by throwing the ball a lot more, which will create seams for the running game.”

Guengerich, an all-league receiver who racked up an impressive 397 yards last year, already has 209 yards in just two games, to lead the De Anza Division. He is also being recruited by several Division I schools, including Princeton, Columbia, Brown and Cornell. In addition to Guengerich, Smith also has another prime target in junior running back Troy Doles, who is making a big splash in the De Anza Division, at second in receiving yards, right behind Guengerich.

“This year, we are a lot more versatile,” said Lugo. “We have multiple formations, which makes it harder for other teams to prepare for us. We run [both run plays and pass plays] from the same sets, which creates more opportunities for our guys and makes it harder for our opponents to predict what we’ll do. “

Much of this versatility comes from a strong set of veteran backs, including senior backs Greg Johnson, a three-year varsity player, and Marcus Hoffman, who both run with a physical, “truck-stick” style, says Lugo. To stretch the field with speed, the Falcons rely on the elusive Doles, who serves as a running and receiving threat and is currently ranked second in the division in touchdowns. Smith can look for protection behind an offensive line led by senior center Joe Walters, another three-year varsity player.

“We have guys who can take care of business this year,” said Lugo. “Walters has been amazing. A lot of the guys take the lead from [Walters] in terms of what he expects and demands.”

Loaded with talent on the offensive side of the ball, the Falcons need their defense to play a pivotal role in the team’s success, says Lugo. It is essential for the Falcons’ defense, led by junior middle linebacker Brandon Oliveri-O’Connor, along with linebackers Johnson and Hoffman to shut down the running game and force their opponents to pass. Senior linebacker Miles Emerson and Oliveri-O’Connor both lead the league in defensive tackles.

“When we’re on defense, we have to ask ourselves, ‘Who wants it more, us or them?’ For defense, it’s all about heart and Red Pride,” said Johnson. “We just need to get better every week.”

A major issue for the Falcons every year is injuries. Because of the team’s small roster size, the Falcons are especially vulnerable when players are injured. Injured player so far include senior defensive end Alex Polcyn, who got injured in the preseason scrimmage, senior full back Dean Stavropoulos, who broke his collarbone while attempting to catch a ball in practice and junior linebacker Kyle Clark, who received a concussion in summer wrestling camp. All three players are expected to return from their injuries during the season.

“Staying healthy is the answer to a lot of our problems,” said Lugo. “As long as we can keep our guys staying healthy, which we’ve had a tough time doing, we should be fine.”

So far into the season, strong offensive performances, have propelled the Falcons to a 2-1 record, as they prepare for their first league game against the 2-0 Homestead Mustangs on Sept. 30, after a bye week. On Sept. 17, the Falcons beat their cross-town rivals, the Westmont Warriors, 54-41. Leading the Falcon offense was Doles, who scored four touchdowns to secure the win. Prior to that, the Falcons win their first home game of the year against the Gilroy Mustangs on Sept. 10, 45-29. However, in their first test of the year on Sept. 4 against the Santa Theresa Saints, the Falcon defense was unable to silence Santa Teresa’s rushing attack, allowing the Saints to run for 350 yards and resulting in a 46-28 loss to start the season.

Falling short last year in the CCS semifinals after turning the ball over three times in one game, the Falcons look to not only return to the playoffs, but win their CCS division as well.

“This year, we have to win six out of our 10 games to go to CCS,” said Johnson. “But with the talent we have on both sides of the ball, it’s definitely a possibility.”

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