That includes, he said, “A lot of college football teams that were like Division III on a weird TV station that my buddy got.”

Nicholas, who is in the second year of rebuilding the Lewiston football program, was inspired by what he saw many teams doing: running zone read with their quarterbacks, allowing him to choose to run the ball or pitch to another runner, while still throwing the ball.

In other words, those teams were employing the spread offense.

Many different types of the spread exist, but they share a basic philosophy of spreading out the players on the field to create more space in a defense for the offense to exploit.

Nicholas took a look at the Blue Devils, who were coming off a 2-7 campaign with a power-run offense, and realized that the spread might fit better with the team’s personnel.

So Lewiston joined a handful of other area high school football teams as purveyors of the spread offense.

The quarterback

Lewiston’s personnel fit with the spread begins with junior quarterback Brock Belanger, a first-year starter who is a threat to run and to pass.

A spread quarterback doesn’t need to be a dual threat, but the formations can highlight his versatility and be a nightmare for opposing teams.

“To me, on the other side of the ball, defensively, when their quarterback can run and their quarterback can pass, that’s tough. That’s tough to defend,” Nicholas said.

Nicholas was on the other side of the ball the second-to-last week of the 2015 regular season when Lewiston lost 32-14 to Massabesic and its running quarterback, Isaac DesVergnes.

“Their quarterback could run, and we lost to them, and we probably should have beaten them, but we couldn’t tackle their quarterback,” Nicholas said. “He’d drop back, we’d get a good rush on, then he’d run …”

Adding to defenses’ headaches, many versions of the spread also incorporate the option, meaning the quarterback a threat to run, pass or pitch.

Athletes and versatility

Belanger is surrounded by several athletes at the skill positions; players who, if given space, can turn short gains into long ones — maybe even scores.

Athletes are important to any offense, obviously, but the spread allows more of them to be utilized, and more often. It doesn’t just spread out the formation, it spreads the love.

“It spreads the ball around so that the defense cannot focus too greatly on one area of your attack,” another tri-county proponent of the spread, Leavitt coach Mike Hathaway, said.

In Lewiston’s case, the switch to the spread came partly due to the athletes it already had on the roster. Hathaway said that running the spread keeps the athletes coming out.

“The offense recruits the athletes in your school to play, which increases overall team speed,” Hathaway said.

Athletes have more opportunities to have the ball in their hands, and in more ways. They’re still blockers, but receivers and slots get to run the ball more in the spread. Or they’ll have short passes thrown their way, and, if all goes as planned, have more space in which to work when they catch the ball.

Take, for example, the way Leavitt used speedy junior slot Caleb Bowen in last week’s season-opening loss to Westbrook.

Bowen ran seven times for 90 yards and caught three passes for 74 yards. From handoffs, he ran for gains of 19, 12, 18 and 24 yards. One of his three receptions went for a 55-yard touchdown for which he weaved his way through the defense and down the field. He also had a 14-yard reception.

The run game

One hundred and ten years ago this week, the first pass was completed in a college football game, thanks to a rule change during the prior offseason that legalized the forward pass. The impact of this innovation rivals those of the wheel, sliced bread and the internet.

Running the ball, though, has remained the core objective of most football offenses. Most versions of the spread maintain this emphasis, and their formations promote the running game. They spread out the entire field. That includes unclogging the middle.

“It removes players from the box, which makes it easier to get big plays out of your running game,” Hathaway said.

The spread also can turn the quarterback essentially into another running back. The QB can take a snap and immediately head for a hole in the line.

“The quarterback as a running threat creates a whole other level of concern for the defense,” Hathaway said, echoing Nicholas’ sentiment.

Or, spread teams can remove the QB from the equation, replacing him with another ball carrier who is more suited to run up the middle. This significantly diminishes the threat of pass, but not completely. Leavitt slot D’Andre James took several snaps as QB last week against Westbrook. James mostly ran on those plays, but did complete the lone pass he attempted.

The trenches

An overlooked benefit of the spread is on the offensive line, where size doesn’t matter as much. The formation decreases congestion at the line of scrimmage, so creating holes isn’t completely up to the lineman.

“You don’t need prototypical lineman; you can have a 5-foot-8, 170(-pound) guard and be successful,” Spruce Mountain coach Walter Polky said.

That can be a major advantage to high school teams, which are only as big as the students enrolled at their schools.

The counter argument

While the spread can be an offense for all sizes, it isn’t necessarily an offense for all seasons.

“The only disadvantage is that bad weather can limit what you can do,” Hathaway said.

That’s one of the reasons Mountain Valley’s first-year coach Pat Mooney isn’t a proponent of the spread. The ground-and-pound style can come in handy when the weather turns.

“I believe when you play cold November football in Maine, particularly in Class C and D, you have to be able to hang your hat on running the football successfully,” Mooney said.

Mooney said that any offense can be effective as long as it is well-coached and a team has the proper personnel. But despite being a relatively young coach — he is only 13 years removed from his senior season at Mountain Valley — Mooney said he prefers offenses that are “rooted in old school” systems.

The spread is not for him.

“In my opinion, football is a physical game that is meant to be won and lost on the line scrimmage,” Mooney said.

“Turning the game of football into a track meet takes away from the purity of the sport.”


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: