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Game of the Week - La Crosse 'D' up for the task

By AUSTIN COLBERT

acolbert@dailynews.net

LA CROSSE -- Predicting a run or a pass is simple enough when facing the Meade High School football team's offense. The Buffaloes employ a single-wing system, which is built entirely around the run -- more than a couple pass attempts in a game is a rarity.

Despite knowing this, stopping them is easier said than done. La Crosse High School senior Marshall Jay, along with the rest of his teammates, witnessed the devastation the Meade offense can unleash when the Buffaloes beat La Crosse 34-12 in last season's Class 2-1A sub-state championship game.

"All I can really remember is they got a couple of big reverses on us and we just over-pursued," Jay said. "That kills you in the single wing. They keep pounding it the same way then they come back with a reverse here and there. That broke our defense down."

It's an offense Meade coach Scott Moshier adopted from Conway Springs, a longtime power in Class 3A. And it's an offense La Crosse coach Jon Webster knows well, having spent time as an assistant at Conway Springs.

But as creative as Meade is with its run game, and with a plethora of ball carriers to choose from on any given play, figuring out who gets the snap and which direction they will run is no easy task.

"That unbalanced, single-wing line, what makes it difficult is one, just the alignment. You are not used to seeing the unbalanced with the two short side and the four guys on the other side," Webster said. "They put a lot of guys at the point of attack. Number two, they run a lot of misdirection that you have to be disciplined and stay at home on the backside and not get caught flying over and get burned on a reverse."

Smith Center found out how much of a challenge stopping the Buffaloes' attack is. The Redmen, which entered last week's Class 2-1A sectional against Meade on a six-game win streak with four shutouts over that period, gave up 354 yards on the ground in a 28-0 loss.

Of the 64 carries Meade had, all but two went to either quarterback Jett Little or tailback Morgan Olvera. Little rushed for 169 yards, while Olvera had 180 yards.

"We can direct snap the ball to one of three players at any time that are in the backfield. We try to use as much misdirection as we can," Moshier said. "I think it's difficult to simulate in a week's time for a brand new team that's never seen it. On the other hand, coach Webster is very familiar with the single wing. He spent time at Conway Springs and we are almost identical to what they are doing. And he's played against us in these last several years. I know he will be prepared."

Webster and the Leopards are hoping their familiarity will be enough to contain the mighty Meade offense when the teams faceoff at 7 p.m. Friday in La Crosse with a trip to the Class 2-1A state title game on the line.

La Crosse (11-0) has faced many powerful run games this season, notably Sterling and Oakley. The Leopards have proven they can handle the size of bigger teams, but Webster admits the players have yet to face as unique a test this season as they will get against the Meade (10-1) single-wing system.

But La Crosse is also confident. The Leopard defense is coming off one of it's best performances of the season in a 12-7 win over Oakley in last week's Class 2-1A sectional. Despite giving up some plays early, it was the La Crosse defense that kept the Leopards in the game and allowed the offense to score the game-winning touchdown in the fourth quarter.

"It wasn't as much a surprise for us at it was other people around the state seeing the score," Jay said. "You don't see much of the defense because we outscore opponents. We give up a couple of touchdowns here and there, but that's just when one of us gets selfish and doesn't do our job. But when all of us are doing our job and doing what we are suppose to do and not trying to outdo ourselves we are pretty good."

The belief is if the La Crosse defense can repeat last week's results, it could be enough for the Leopards to keep their undefeated season alive.

A big key will be controlling the line and making sure the Leopard linebackers, led by Jay, remain free to roam and make tackles on the Meade ball carriers.

"It's going to take that whole team defense like we had last week to be successful," Webster said. "We know when our defense is focused and ready to play we are pretty solid ... defense is what we hang our hat on around here."