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Game of the Week -- Oakley offense run-heavy

By CONOR NICHOLL

cnicholl@dailynews.net

OAKLEY -- The Oakley High School football team took a 20-7 halftime lead against Elkhart en route to a 42-7 victory in a Class 2-1A first-round playoff game last week. The Plainsmen's first three TD drives epitomized Oakley's ball control, run-heavy offense.

"That's what we try to do," coach Randall Rath said.

On the first drive, Oakley moved 57 yards in 10 plays and chewed up 3 minutes, 37 seconds of clock. The Plainsmen converted its only third-down attempt. On the second drive, Oakley went 50 yards in 10 plays and used 4:42 on the clock. The Plainsmen went 0 of 2 on third down, but 2 of 2 on fourth down.

The third drive ended with a fumble on the second play. However, the fourth drive was ideal Oakley: an 18-play, 90-yard drive that lasted 8:53. The Plainsmen went 4 of 4 on third down.

"Get off the field on third down, and we just couldn't do it," Elkhart coach Khris Buckner said.

On Friday, Oakley's offense led by senior running back Key Keller, senior quarterback Darius Herl and senior fullback Oscar Macias, will match up against La Crosse (10-0) and its multi-faceted look. All three players are returning starters. Whichever style can have more success will likely win the game.

"We just go to wear them down and just keep punishing them until they don't want to go anymore, and then we just explode on them," junior lineman Dylan Gassmann said.

La Crosse ranks fourth in the classification with 446 points, while Oakley is sixth with 403 points. The Plainsmen stand first in scoring defense at 27 points allowed, while La Crosse is fifth at 127 points, according to preppowerindex.com.

"It's great to do that, that's what we love to do, is wear teams down," senior running back Key Keller said. "We condition all year. We think we are the best at the conditioning area. We don't think that there is anyone that can compete with us in that area. We work our butts off to do that."

La Crosse counters with junior quarterback Jack Garcia, who has completed 71 of 127 passes for 1,735 yards and 26 scores against six interceptions.

Oakley allowed Elkhart some long kickoff returns before it started to squib kick near game's end. The Leopards feature junior Andrew Jay, Kansas' special teams leader with 660 return yards, 1,724 all-purpose yards and three non-offensive scores.

The Plainsmen score in a more traditional way: smashmouth football. In the last two games, Keller has rushed 37 times for 364 yards and seven scores. Against Elkhart, he had 24 carries for 258 yards and four TDs.

"If Key didn't have his runs, it would probably be a whole lot closer score," Gassmann said. "He really helps us."

On the 90-yard drive, Keller converted three third downs with runs of five, 17 (on third and 13 from the Plainsmen 22), and 11 yards for the TD on third and 4. At times, Gassmann opened big holes when he pulled to the outside left from his guard position.

"The size of the hole, the holes were not all that big and sometimes we had some confusion whether we had to take it inside or outside," Keller said. "I tried to read it the best I could, and we just had to power on through it."

Herl has 24 total carries with three scores and 77 yards apiece in each of the last two games. Against Elkhart, Herl ball faked well and gained key yards, including a score on 4th and goal from the 1. Herl, the team's leader - he was the first player to receive the playoff plaque last Friday - also has no turnovers in the last two contests. Passing-wise, he rarely throws, but does have one TD each the last two weeks.

"He is getting better at it," Rath said. "It's something that we have worked on. Again, he started all last year. I thought our line did a good job executing their blocks."