North Paulding quarterback Kyle Banks passes against Creekview in August. Banks later passed for 560 yards in a game against Harrison. KENT D. JOHNSON / KDJOHNSON@AJC.COM
Photo: Kent D. Johnson
Photo: Kent D. Johnson

Spread offenses increase scoring for Georgia high schools

Herschel Walker of Johnson County set a Georgia high school record by scoring 45 touchdowns in one famous state-championship season. That was 1979.

Adjusted for inflation, that number comes to 74 touchdowns in today’s scoring dollars.

The spread offense and other culprits have driven up points by 64 percent in those 35 years — from 14.8 per team to 24.3 this season, according to the Georgia High School Football Historians Association, which nearly has complete records that date to 1948.

The scoring average has risen sharply more recently, up seven points per game for both teams combined from 10 seasons ago.

“Football is just like the evolution of the iPhone; it’s constantly changing,’’ said Washington County coach Joel Ingram, whose No. 1-ranked Class AAA team averages 51.6 points per game. “Offenses will develop cool new concepts to put stress on defenses. Then as years pass, defenses catch up with innovations and blitzes of their own.’’

But defenses have never been this far behind.

Washington County, Buford and Tucker have scored at least 50 points in each of their past four games. Only 22 teams in history had done that until this season, according to the GHSFHA. Tucker’s streak of six is tied for the third-longest in history.

Four teams scored 70 or more points Friday alone. That was a first in state history.

Three quarterbacks, Nick Belz of Wayne County, Duke Kinamon of McIntosh and John Urzua of North Gwinnett, have thrown for seven touchdowns in a game. Urzua has done it twice. That’s tied for the third-most in the past 50 years.

North Paulding quarterback Kyle Banks threw for 560 yards in a game against Harrison. That’s the third-most in state history. Mikey Gonzalez of Gainesville, Stevie Powers of Benedictine and Kylil Carter of South Cobb have thrown for 450 or more. Carter rushed for 147 in the same game.

It’s not all about passing, either. Teams seem to have a new jump in their running step, too.

St. Pius beat Arabia Mountain 70-38 last week without throwing a single pass. St. Pius gained 527 yards on 51 rushes and still struggled to stay ahead of Arabia Mountain quarterback Jakobi Meyers, who had 295 yards passing and 122 rushing himself.

“Their offense, as traditional as it is, is really a wild card today because nobody runs the veer option anymore,’’ said Ingram, whose team lost to St. Pius 40-35 in the 2012 state quarterfinals. “It’s just next to impossible to prepare for the discipline play and assignment football it takes to defend St. Pius X when all you see week in and week out is the spread.’’

The old-fashioned, smash-mouth style, though rare, is still effective. Devyn Collins, a running back from Pepperell in Rome, set the state record with 485 yards rushing against Rockmart. Pepperell still lost, 34-32. Collins had 48 rushing attempts.

Tyler LaFlamme of South Forsyth (435) and Marquis Terry of Drew (403) have rushed for more than 400 in a game. Before this season, only 11 backs had been documented to have achieved that.

Meanwhile, Hillgrove running back Sonny Harris scored eight touchdowns in a 72-46 victory against North Paulding. The eight-touchdown milestone has been reached only three other times. Also notable in that game were the 166 plays run from scrimmage. North Paulding led 85-81.

“Offenses aren’t sitting in a huddle, eating up the play clock anymore,’’ Alexander coach Matt Combs said. “The spread offense today is averaging over 55 snaps a game. This is why you are also seeing high-scoring ballgames. It is not because defenses have gotten worse. It is an odds game. You have a better chance of score with more opportunities.’’

Explanations for the trend are plentiful. Most of it begins with no-huddle, spread offense. In the past, teams threw downfield to loosen the defense vertically. Today, that is done with alignments and formations that stretch the field horizontally, as well. They don’t give defenses time to substitute.

“Find the weakness of a defense and put your best guys on that weakness,’’ North Paulding offensive coordinator Jeremy Edwards said. “Once you find something that works, you just keep attacking. We are going to be in attack mode all the time. That is accomplished through tempo and keeping the defense off balance with run and pass.’’

Pickens coach Chris Parker, whose running back Shannon Brooks leads the state with 1,850 rushing yards, believes that offensive coordinators are better-trained.

“Even teams that are struggling have some very productive offensive minds,’’ Parker said. “Clinics and offseason professional-development opportunities are catered to offenses, and there are so many great ideas out there that make it very difficult for defenses to defend all of them.’’

Parker also believes that rules preventing workouts in pads in the summer favors the offense. Defensive players need pads to work on their most critical skill, tackling, and rules don’t allow much of that until August, while quarterbacks and receivers have honed their skills all summer in seven-on-seven camps.

Wayne County coach Jody Grooms, whose quarterback threw seven touchdown passes in a game, believes technology has given offenses an advantage.

“Most coaches, some teams and some players study film religiously,’’ Grooms said. “That film allows for chinks in the armor to be found and exploited. Film can be watched now on phones, IPads, at home, in the classroom, before practice, after practice and even during lunch. Some schools show film during the game in between series and make adjustments on the spot.’’

And, let’s face it, scoring is fun.

North Oconee coach Terry Tuley’s star running back, Kawon Bryant, recently scored the 86th touchdown of his high school career. That ties him with Herschel Walker.

“In days gone by, scoring too many points was running up the score,’’ Tuley said. “Winning 10-7 was considered noble and proper. In today’s football, the offense is evaluated based on scoring. It is only reasonable to think then that the offenses should go out on the field with the mentality to score points. The fan looks forward to the score.’’

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