Greg Vandagriff ensured his team was ready for last Friday’s game.
Vandagriff, head coach of the Prince Avenue Christian School football team, physically got involved during practice for a bit. He lined up at quarterback and ran plays, showing his team what to expect against the Holy Innocents’ Episcopal School triple option offense.
The extra effort paid off – Prince Avenue dominated the game, winning 49-0.
Vandagriff drew on past experiences to show his players what to expect against the triple option. The Wolverines head coach previously worked as the defensive coordinator at Woodward Academy. While there, he saw multiple teams each year that ran the same system.
“I just simulated a little triple option, just because it's such important to have quarterback play mesh right and stuff like that to give them a look,” Vandagriff said. “I didn't suit up, I just sort of ran the triple option for them because we saw it so much at Woodward. We saw Pius all the time and we saw Marist, so having played them so much helps us have an understanding of what to do.”
Vandagriff demonstrated how the quarterback would move after the snap and where he could possibly go with the ball.
Additionally, he ramped up the pace of play. Junior defensive back Bailey Stockton said Vandagriff ran a hurry-up offense.
“He set the tempo at quarterback,” Stockton said. “He wanted us to actually know what they were doing. Some of the plays, we knew what they were running just because we watched so much film and we practice it all the time. ... We probably ran four triple option plays in, like, 30 seconds.”
Stockton picked off a pass during the game, as did Josh Britt. Mason Durning recovered two fumbles while Ethan Garner and Brantley Parramore recovered one apiece.
Luke Lanier led the team in tackles with 11. Brody Healan finished with 10 tackles.
That smothering defensive effort propelled Prince Avenue to a blowout win in a game that was expected to be more competitive.
Stockton gave credit to defensive coordinator Rob Ridings for the game plan, and quarterback Aaron Philo said the tone that Vandagriff set by participating in practice was a difference maker as well.
“He was running full speed,” Philo said. “He was letting people bump into him a little bit. The people learned where to fill their gaps and stuff and I think that helped a lot.”
Of course, the coach only took so much punishment while on the field.
“If you hit him, you're gonna be running,” Stockton said with a laugh. “It's two-hand touch with him.”
The strong defensive effort buoyed the Wolverines in the early stages.
Their offense sputtered on a couple of plays, causing them to settle for a field goal by Bryson Franklin and take a 3-0 lead into the second quarter.
From the beginning, though, it was clear Prince Avenue could hang with the Holy Innocents’ triple option attack. Durning said the main challenge of facing the triple option is remaining steady.
“The physicality, not getting beat down throughout the game (is key),” Durning said. “You've got to be mentally tough and just keep pushing through.”
While the defense kept things locked down, the offense got rolling in the second quarter.
Philo threw his first touchdown of the night to Ethan Christian, who leapt inside the end zone and out-jumped a defender to make the grab with 10:19 left in the second quarter.
One of the fumble recoveries set up a touchdown pass from Philo to Stockton at 8:57, improving the lead to 17-0.
The rout was officially on with the game’s highlight play.
Lanier took a handoff from Philo then fired down the sideline to Stockton. Despite heavy pressure from a defensive back, Stockton tipped the ball around a few times before snagging it out of the air and bolting downfield untouched for a 74-yard score.
A few minutes later, Philo tossed another scoring throw to Stockton, pushing the Wolverines ahead 31-0 with 2:46 left in the half.
After intermission, Philo recovered a fumbled snap and slung a 61-yard touchdown throw to Christian with 10:47 to go in the third.
Britt caught the next Philo touchdown pass at the 8:32 mark, giving Prince Avenue a 45-0 lead. The Wolverines got 2 more points shortly thereafter when the Holy Innocents’ punter accidentally kneeled inside his own end zone while fielding a low snap.
Prince Avenue forced another safety with about three minutes left in the game, making it 49-0.
Philo went 18-for-21 with 264 yards passing and five touchdowns. Christian had 124 yards receiving while Stockton had 113.
In all four games this year, at least one Prince Avenue receiver finished with at least 100 yards receiving.
Philo already has 1,379 yards passing to his credit as well as 15 touchdowns.
The first-year starting quarterback said the rapport between he and his receivers – who are all first-year starters, too – was developed thanks to all their practice reps together.
“It's a practice thing,” Philo said. “Every single day, we just try to get better at our stuff. Every day we're practicing our passing game and everything. Perimeter blocking was way better [Friday] than it's been before, too.”
Unfortunately for Prince Avenue, its passing attack was not complemented by rushing success.
The Wolverines finished the night with -36 yards rushing. Vandagriff said the poor rushing effort was largely due to the Golden Bears’ talent up front.
“Their d-line is dominating,” Vandagriff said. “They've got two D-I kids at end and we don't have D-I kids at tackle, so it's a thing where you go into the game with a plan and you want to be balanced, but you also want to win so you do what it takes to win.”
This Friday, Prince Avenue will host Wesleyan. The Wolves come to Bogart with a 2-1 record and fresh off a bye week.
Vandagriff said he anticipates a tough battle.
“Just like us, they lost some kids from last year,” he said. “They're in a rebuilding kind of situation and I'm sure they're gunning for us. They were off last week, so they've had two weeks to prepare for us. We're gonna have our work cut out for us.”