There was not a single team in the state that was able to accomplish a turnaround like Clarke football put together this season.
An Indians team that scored just 20 points a season ago, averaged 25.2 points per game this year behind a complete identity shift on offense, relying on deception.
Second-year head coach Duane Matthess instituted a single wing formation on offense, a look that many regard as an ‘extinct’ or ‘dinosaur’ way of running an offense in the day and age of the more common spread looks.
But the single wing is very much alive in Osceola.
Matthess, who ran the single wing occasionally while playing in high school, spent the offseason tracking down contact information for a former coach based out of northwest Ohio, a man by the name of Tom Lewis.
Lewis, a longtime high school football coach, instituted the single wing scheme back in 2003 at Plymouth High School and saw plenty of success, including an undefeated season in 2009.
“I actually read an article about his offense and just called him up. I tracked him, I stalked him,” joked Matthess. “He was so welcoming and open to sharing.
“He really lent himself to us. He wasn’t coaching anymore so to see his offense in motion he said was really a thrill for him,” said Matthess. “We’d record practice ... and he’d take a look ... and say this is something you want to address.”
Matthess couldn’t say enough about Lewis’ help because he and his coaching staff were still learning the offense as well, noting that he was essentially an extra coach on his staff.
The deception of the single wing is where opposing defensive coordinators pull their hair out all week to try and stop it.
Consisting of a quarterback, halfback, an upback and a spinner back that could all carry the ball on any given play, each play is designed with trickeration as well as plenty of lead blockers to lead the charge.
“Obviously it slows teams down because they have to start thinking about who has the ball and, you know, it’s confusing,” said Matthess.
After just 584 rushing yards throughout an 0-9, 2017 campaign, the new look and offseason dedication brought about 2,382 rushing yards (the 7th most in Class 2A) this season and a 3-6 record.
It may not have been above .500, but for the Indians it ties a season-high in wins dating back to 1998, according to Matthess.
“It was a huge accomplishment,” said senior quarterback Riley Domina. “It makes me feel great that I started to build this foundation for Clarke football to build on.”
There was not a single team in the state that went from from scoring less than three touchdowns in 2017 to 30 in 2018.
Domina led the charge at quarterback, piling up a team-high 736 yards on the ground. Behind him was Chris Carson and Amani Fry who put up 358 and 336 yards rushing, respectively.
The next leading rushers for the Indians were Payton Winship and Garrett Moore, both of whom had their season cut short by injury.
Moore set a single-game rushing record in his only full game on the year, bulldozing his way for 246 yards on the ground against Saydel.
In that same game, Clarke rushed for a total of 479 yards on the ground.
As difficult as the single wing is to stop, it’s equally difficult to install as all 11 players on the offense are asked to block.
Just like any other offense, the deceptive formation relies on blockers being assignment sound and being aware at all times.
Domina noted that trusting one another was the hardest part of the new offense as each player had to have faith in the other 10 players to stick to their assignment.
“I would be playing our defense and our JV would run the plays and when they were good we would be lost,” said Domina.
But when it clicked, Matthess could see just how frustrating it was for opponents.
“When we had a defense, kids were pulling their hair out,” said Matthess. “Because they’re going to tackle someone ... and they don’t have the ball.”
Matthess noted some players were a little hesitant to jump feet first into a different offense, but once they saw the results, it was an easy sell.
Clarke isn’t the only team in the state to run the single wing as Sigourney/Keota and Webster City are among other schools that run the same base scheme.
But the Indians made sure to add wrinkles and variation to the look to differentiate themselves from other programs.
Next season, Matthess has no plans of changing the base of the offense.
“Why would we go away from it,” questioned Matthess.
Matthess admitted that other area coaches have complained to him about trying to prepare for the Clarke offense, only reaffirming the decision to switch.
The second-year skipper expects the Indians to be above .500 next year and knows that having ended the season with a lot of future starters getting extra reps, he expects Clarke to be even more competitive in 2019.