By Kevin Cloe
Problem: Ineffective offense
Solution: Hand Bryson Alder the ball
It was that simple last Friday when Wickenburg High School’s football team unleashed Alder to trounce visiting and winless Coronado, 52-14, on Homecoming night.
Alder had started the season as the quarterback when the Wranglers lost three of their first four games. Granted, those losses didn’t fall solely on the junior quarterback’s shoulders; there was plenty of blame to go around. In fact, as quarterback, Alder was the leading ball carrier for the season for the Wranglers — averaging 82 yards on the ground and 56 yards through the air per game.
However, veteran head coach Mike Mitchell continued to search for a way to ignite an offense that had scored only one touchdown in each of those three losses. Numerous lost fumbles, an overwhelmed offensive line, and untimely penalties were frustrating the Wranglers’ second-year coach.
So last week, he decided to try one more thing. He moved Alder to running back and sophomore Calogero “Ro” DiCamillo into the starting quarterback position.
It wasn’t a totally new move; he had been occasionally used “Ro” as quarterback in earlier games to give the Wranglers a new look on offense. But he eventually would go back to Alder calling the signals when still nothing was happening offensively.
How productive was that change last week (besides the lopsided score)?
Alder carried the ball 28 times and rushed for 257 yards and four touchdowns in the Wranglers’ second victory of the season.
Even though he was pleased with that output from his shifty and lightning-quick former quarterback, Coach Mitchell was particularly pleased with how the young DiCamillo steadied the offense against the Dons.
Yes, there were still a couple fumbles of the snap from center, but those didn’t do much damage and were significantly fewer than earlier games.
Using a limited passing game, “Ro” only completed three of his 11 pass attempts but kept the ball himself five times for a total of 72 yards and two touchdowns (including big plays of 38 and 25 yards).
Meanwhile, not only was Alder zig-zagging through the Coronado defense most of the night, but he also caught two passes out of the backfield and intercepted a couple passes while on defense. His two picks Friday night gives him a total of seven for the season — still leading the entire 3A Conference and eclipsing his six from all of last season.
So with all the progress made in last Friday night’s game, what will the Wranglers be able to do when defending 3A Conference state champion Northwest Christian comes to town this Friday night?
“Right now, we needed a little confidence,” Coach Mitchell said after the Homecoming victory. “That’s good.”
Northwest Christian will take the field Friday night with a 4-1 record and unofficially ranked No. 3 in the state’s 3A Conference — losing only to No. 1-ranked Benjamin Franklin of Queen Creek, 21-10. The Crusaders have beaten 18th-ranked Fountain Hills (45-20), 12th-ranked Yuma Catholic (45-17), No. 8 American Leadership/Gilbert North, 22-7; and No. 7 Valley Christian, 17-10. The Wranglers, who have already lost to Fountain Hills, 32-6, are unofficially ranked No. 24 among the 40 teams in the 3A Conference.
Last year, the Wranglers suffered one of their three losses to the eventual 3A West Region champion Crusaders, 31-14. Again this year, the Purple and Gold starts region against the defending champs, who generally present a balanced offensive attack (averaged 230 yards rushing and 120 yards passing this season) and an aggressive and stubborn defense. So expect the Crusaders to focus on stopping Alder’s elusive running game and effective long point-producing offensive drives.
GAME NOTE: Besides Alder’s two interceptions (one being a spectacular one-handed snag on an overthrown Coronado pass), 6-foot-3, 225-pound senior defensive end Wyatt Grantham wowed the Homecoming crowd with thunderous tackles all night. He finished the game with three quarterback sacks (including an unforgiving jersey grab and slam to the ground) and a total of six solo and one assisted tackles. He was so dominating on the defensive side of the ball that game announcer Doug Clementz repeated several times … “Again, the tackle was by … guess who … Wyatt Grantham!” He and his defensive teammates kept Coronado’s running game behind the line of scrimmage all night — leaving the Dons with a minus 25 yards on the ground on only 10 carries. However, the defense allowed 323 yards through the air.