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X's and O's: Why the Double Wing still works

As high school offenses across the country become more and more diverse, we sometimes forget that football is somewhat cyclical in its evolution. What’s old is new again.

As the MIAA football playoffs kick off tonight, we are reminded that while more and more high school teams around Massachusetts have begun to opening up the passing playbook over the last decade, a handful of programs in the state have maintained consistent success behind an antiquated, century-old “Double Wing” rushing scheme. Teams like Holy Name, Somerset-Berkley and Shepherd Hill have excelled with this attack full-time, either appearing in or winning a number of MIAA Super Bowls over the last decade. Others, such as Holliston or Haverhill, will dive into the package in the red zone, or as a fallback when their offense is stalling and in need of a kick.

The Double Wing is characterized by extremely tight splits along the line of scrimmage, with two mirroring wingbacks angled towards the backfield. This is a difficult offense for high school programs to prepare for due to a multitude of reasons, not the least being the elimination of blitzes thanks to its one-inch splits. Whereas the modern game has trended towards zone-blocking schemes, the Double Wing comes at you with an array of double-teams, chips, traps and high-risk cut blocks. Literally, when preparing for a Double Wing team you are installing a new defense in a matter of days. For your average high school team, that can be quite taxing.

Where many of these new, exotic-looking spread offenses look to beat you in a footrace, the Double Wing seeks to beat you through brute force. Here are some of the plays that make the scheme so successful:

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WEDGE

Sometimes in short-yardage situations, teams will try and crowbar their way to a first down with a wedge play. The blocking scheme is pretty simple -- every player on the line takes a step inside towards the center, and the wingbacks open their hips to the sideline for a “hinge” block, creating a wall for the ballcarrier to run behind. Sometimes you will see edge blockers laying out for a cut block in this scheme. When done right early in the game, forcing the defense to sell on the wedge, it can open up the rest of the playbook.

Somerset-Berkley hit this quarterback wedge play a few times for success early against Martha's Vineyard. The result was a nice 20-6 Blue Raiders win.

Some teams will dress this up with rocket motion or jet sweep action out of the backfield. Here is a variation of the wedge in which the fullback gets the ball for a midline look.

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TOSS SERIES

Every Double Wing team has at least two bread-and-butter toss plays in its arsenal -- the power, and the sweep.

A good running back knows how to stay small behind his blockers through the point of attack, then burst to daylight and turn on the afterburners:

These next few clips are toss plays run by former Holliston great Zach Elkinson, who put together one of the most amazing stat lines ever in a high school state championship in last year’s Division 4 Final, carrying nine times for 212 yards and five touchdowns in a 43-0 rout of Wahconah. Holliston is unique in that it is a spread team that often goes into a Double Wing when in the red zone. Struggling to get anything going out of their base packages early against an aggressive Wahconah front, the Panthers went full-out Double Wing and made a legend out of Elkinson.

Take note of how wide a path Elkinson takes when shuffling into motion, how sharply he cuts upfield, and how flat-footed it all catches the Wahconah defense. Elkinson, a two-time ESPNBoston All-State selection, is a lacrosse player by trade, currently playing at the University of Hartford. As an attacker on the lacrosse field, acute cuts like this were second nature for him. On the biggest stage at Gillette Stadium, he turned his defenders into chairs.

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COUNTER CRISS CROSS

There are a number of great counter plays teams run out of this scheme. My personal favorite is the criss cross, because of the suddenness of the reverse action.

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QB POWER

Double Wing quarterbacks are essentially another running back, and are sometimes the fastest and most athletic player on the field. This was the case last year with Shepherd Hill, whose All-State quarterback Drew Jean-Guillaume led the team in every rushing category, ran a 10.8-second 100-meter dash, and signed with Division 1 FCS program Central Connecticut State as a tailback.

But more importantly, the quarterback can take a beating in this offense, and therefore needs to be tough and be able to absorb a violent collision. Sometimes the quarterback will be tasked with lead blocking on a sweep. Other times, they’ll have to call their own number on a power, as we see below:

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WAGGLE

The concept here is the same as it would be in any other family of offense -- stretch the pocket to the sideline, flood that side with three levels of depth, and pick the right receiver based off where the defense bites. The waggle’s effectiveness lies in its change of pace -- having to fight off such a run-heavy blocking scheme for most of the game, defenses may be caught off-guard by the waggle action, especially if they are stacking the box.

Former Everett great J.R. Suozzo was one of the best I’ve ever seen at running the waggle play out of the double wing. The battery between him and running back Isaac Johnson when running a wheel out of the backfield was something to behold.

With 6-foot-5, Michigan-bound tight end Sean McKeon galloping across the middle, Shepherd Hill commanded a ton of respect for its waggle play last year. Sometimes the Rams played off that respect and used the same action to set up a throwback screen, as we see below:

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TRIPLE WING?

This is why I consider Holy Name’s Mike Pucko pound for pound one of the best coaches across Massachusetts when it comes to optimizing the strengths of his roster. Over the last few years, the Naps have sometimes been devoid of a true fullback. So what does he do? He installs elements of the “Triple Wing”, a fullback-less variation of the scheme mastered by Dutch Meyer at TCU in the first half of the 20th Century. By placing a third wingback on the perimeter, in lieu of a fullback in the backfield, the Naps are able to create even more misdirection.

How many coaches would honestly do something like this? But so far in 2015, it’s worked. Promising junior tailback Kevin Mensah is having a breakout season thanks in part to this scheme, with his 1,113 rushing yards currently putting him fifth overall in the state.