By Mitch Stephens
Like most revolutions, even on a high school football field, this one met much resistance.
Piedmont coaches Steve Humphries and Kurt Bryan had masterminded a revolutionary offense last spring, the A-11, where all 11 players were eligible for passes.
They dissected the rule book, checked and double checked with the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) and the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) and spent gobs of cell phone minutes with referee organizations to make sure their six-receiver, three-linemen sets were clean, kosher and legal.
Once that got cleared, selling and implementing it to their players during spring break was another major obstacle.
"It looked pretty crazy but we were pretty open," starting quarterback Jeremy George said. "It was new and exciting and innovative. I think my parents were a little concerned who was going to protect me. I don't think the running backs were crazy about it. The receivers were really excited though."
Everyone was excited when the Highlanders dropped their first two games and scored just nine points in the process.
Excited in the bad sense, however.
Head coach Bryan, whose been in coaching since 1987 including stops at Menlo College and St. Mary's College, said he's never received so much hate mail or criticism.
"It was pretty bad," he said. "The worst I've ever received. But most of it was anonymous. It was kind of expected since we made such drastic switches and lost games."
Said George: "I think everyone was a little worried."
But Bryan, Humphries and staff reminded their players of a saying they'd repeated many times over the previous season, a far reaching credo that expanded far beyond the ultra spread offense.
"Tough times don't last but tough people do."
But like corn syrup it stuck. And so did the offense.
The coaches said they never lost faith because despite the lack of production early, they still saw shimmering potential.
"We saw in game film we were one or two blown assignments away from major big plays," Humphries said. "If we fixed our mistakes, the entire thing would open right up."
They were right.
Behind the coach's faith, the players' execution and the innovative offense, the Highlanders rattled off seven straight wins before a 38-15 loss last week to defending North Coast Section Class A champion St. Patrick/St. Vincent-Vallejo.
The game decided the Bay Shore Athletic League championship.
Despite the defeat, Piedmont (7-3) received a NCS 2A East Bay at-large berth and tonight travels to top-seed Los Lomas-Walnut Creek (10-0) with a chance to create another revolution of sorts.
Humphries said he devised the offense just for this reason - so his undersized squad from a small-enrollment school could compete against bigger and larger-enrollment schools.
Of the 19 2A East Bay football schools, Piedmont ranks 18th with 941 students. Last Lomas ranks first with 1,569. The enrollment disparity, according to Humphries, is part of the reason the Highlanders haven't won a playoff game since 2000, losing five first-round games since then.
The A-11 features a center, a tight end on each side and three wide receivers to the right and left, respectively, with two quarterbacks in shotgun formation. With no one under center, the offense meets the criteria for a scrimmage kick formation.
Thus any player with eligible numbers (1-49 or 89-99) is eligible to catch a pass. See A-11 for more detail.
"We had to figure out a way to compete against bigger schools," Humphries said. "Year in, year out we are getting beat up in the playoffs by bigger and more physical teams. This allows us to utilize our speed, quickness and smarts."
George definitely utilizes all the above.
The 5-foot-9, 140-pound junior combines great feet (he's been a starter on the soccer team since he was a freshman), toughness and strong arm with a 3.85 grade point average to keep the Highlanders moving.
He's completed 120 of 205 for 1,483 yards and 12 touchdowns. He's also the team's leading rusher with 332 yards on 77 attempts, which includes only 12 sacks.
George has spread the ball all around as six receivers have at least 12 catches, led by Joey Andrada (31), Alexander Menke (26) and Kyle Bonachum (21).
"After our two losses, we really pulled together and worked even harder on the offense," George said. "It's not nearly as crazy as it seems."
The coaches agree and actually said once learned it's not any more complex than the wishbone, veer or conventional spread.
"We just call it the super spread," Humphries said.
The players aren't the only ones buying in, Bryan said.
He's received calls from at least 50 college coaches and one un-named NFL head coach.
"He's in the NFC," Humphries said. "That's all I can tell you."
Other advantages to the offense are that it's difficult to prepare for, team fitness and a constant ray of hope.
"We feel like no deficit is insurmountable," Bryan said.
Said Humphries: "Plus it just promotes innovation and excitement. When executed just right it's a thing of beauty."
The Highlanders will need a lot of beauty tonight to beat the juggernaut Knights, who average 370 yards and 41 points per game. Las Lomas features one of the East Bay's premier runners, Danny Ward (1,262 yards, 17 touchdowns) and dynamics receivers in Diante Jackson.
With all the attention paid to the A-11, Piedmont's strength is probably on defense, which gives up just 14 points a game and is led by 5-10, 180-pound linebacker Keith Reid (62 tackles) and 6-foot, 180-pound back Rory Bonnin (three interceptions).
No matter what happens tonight, Bryan said 2007 season has been an overwhelming success.
He credits other varsity staffers Pete Schneider (quarterbacks), Mario Thornton (receivers), Anthony Freeman (running backs/tight ends) and Kevin Anderson II (defensive coordinator) as equal parts.
"I'm proud of the team and staff to sticking to their guns and not wavering during really difficult times," he said. "The players really persevered and succeeded and that's something they can take with them always."
PLAYOFF PICKS: Get them here first folks. Here's every NCS, Central Coast, Oakland and San Francisco first-round winner and ultimate division champs.
SAN FRANCISCO SECTION
Turkey Day game: Washington (7-3) vs. Lincoln (8-3) at Kezar Stadium, 11 a.m. Thursday
Predicted winner: Lincoln.
No. 4 Skyline (3-7) at No. 1 Castlemont (5-5), Friday
No. 3 Oakland Tech (5-4-1) at No. 2 McClymonds (3-6-1), Friday
Winners: Skyline, McClymonds.
CENTRAL COAST SECTION
No. 6 Valley Christian (7-2-1) at No. 3 Gilroy (8-2), Saturday
No. 7 Palma (8-2) at No. 2 Los Gatos (9-0-1), Friday
No. 4 Bellarmine (9-1) vs. No. 5 Serra (7-3) at San Jose CC, Saturday
No. 8 Mitty (7-3) at No. 1 Oak Grove (9-1), Friday
Winners: Valley Christian, Los Gatos, Bellarmine, Oak Grove.
Champion: Valley Christian.
No. 6 El Camino (7-3) at No. 3 Palo Alto (8-2), Saturday
No. 7 Milpitas (5-5) vs. No. 2 North Salinas (7-3) at Salinas HS, Friday
No. 5 Piedmont Hills (6-4) at No. 4 Aragon (8-2), Saturday
No. 8 Homestead (8-1-1) at No. 1 Menlo-Atherton (9-1), Saturday
Winners: Palo Alto, North Salinas, Aragon, Menlo-Atherton.
Champion: Palo Alto.
No. 6 Saratoga (7-3) vs. No. 3 Monterey (6-4) at Monterey Peninsula College, Saturday
No. 7 Sobrato (6-3-1) at No. 2 Live Oak (6-4), Friday
No. 5 North Monterey County (6-4) at No. 4 Pioneer (5-4-1), Saturday
No. 8 Terra Nova (5-4-1) vs. No. 1 Riordan (6-3-1) at CCSF, Saturday
Winners: Monterey, Live Oak, N. Monterey County, Riordan.
No. 6 Santa Cruz (7-3) at No. 3 Seaside (7-3), Saturday
No. 7 Greenfield (8-2) at No. 2 Del Mar (10-0), Friday
No. 5 Carmel (7-3) at No. 4 Scotts Valley (6-4), Saturday
No. 8 Soquel (6-4) at No. 1 Pacific Grove (9-1), Friday
Winners: Seaside, Del Mar, Carmel, Pacific Grove.
Champion: Del Mar.
NORTH COAST SECTION
4A East Bay
No. 8 Berkeley (6-3-1) at No. 1 De La Salle (9-0), Friday
No. 4 Monte Vista (7-3) vs. No. 5 San Leandro (8-2) at Burrell Field, Saturday
No. 7 Foothill (6-4) at No. 2 James Logan (10-0), Friday
No. 3 California (9-1) at No. 6 Pittsburg (6-4), Saturday
Winners: De La Salle, Monte Vista, James Logan, Pittsburg.
Champion: De La Salle.
3A East Bay
No. 8 American (6-4) at No. 1 San Ramon Valley (8-1-1), Friday
No. 5 Alameda (7-3) at No. 4 College Park (8-2), Saturday
No. 7 Washington (4-5-1) at No. 2 Newark Memorial (9-1), Friday
No. 6 Arroyo (6-4) at No. 3 Pinole Valley (8-1-1), Saturday
Winners: San Ramon Valley, College Park, Washington, Pinole Valley.
Champion: San Ramon Valley
3A Redwood Empire
No. 8 Redwood (7-3) at No. 1 Cardinal Newman (8-1-1), Friday
No. 5 Montgomery (6-3-1) vs. No. 4 Sonoma Valley (7-2-1) at Arnold Field, Saturday
No. 7 Petaluma (5-5) vs. No. 2 Rancho Cotate (8-2) at Santa Rosa High, Friday
No. 6 Santa Rosa (7-3) at No. 3 Casa Grande (8-1-1), Saturday
Winners: Cardinal Newman, Montgomery, Rancho Cotate, Casa Grande.
Champion: Cardinal Newman
3A East Bay-Redwood champion: San Ramon Valley.
2A East Bay
No. 8 Piedmont (7-3) at No. 1 Las Lomas (10-0), Friday
No. 5 Ygnacio Valley (6-4) at No. 4 Bishop O'Dowd (8-2), Saturday
No. 7 Campolindo (7-3) at No. 2 Heritage (7-3), Friday
No. 6 Acalanes (6-4) at No. 3 Encinal (8-2), Saturday
Winners: Las Lomas, Ygnacio Valley, Heritage, Encinal.
Champion: Las Lomas.
2A Redwood Empire
No. 1 Novato (10-0) bye
No. 4 Terra Linda (5-5) at No. 5 Lower Lake (6-3-1), Friday
No. 7 Analy (2-7) vs. No. 2 Healdsburg (9-1) at Rec Park, Friday
No. 6 Fortuna (9-1) at No. 3 Del Norte (9-0), Saturday
Winners: Terra Linda, Healdsburg, Del Norte
2A East Bay-Redwood champion: Novato.
No. 8 Cloverdale (7-3) at No. 1 St. Patrick/St. Vincent (10-0), Friday
No. 5 King's Academy (7-2) at No. 4 Clear Lake (9-0-1), Saturday
No. 7 Sacred Heart Prep (8-2) at No. 2 Ferndale (9-1), Saturday
No. 6 Justin Siena (6-4) at No. 3 Salesian (9-1), Saturday
Winners: St. Patrick, King's Academy, Ferndale, Salesian.
Champion: St. Patrick.
No. 1 St. Vincent (7-3) bye
No. 2 St. Elizabeth (6-4) bye
No. 5 Hoopa (7-3) at No. 4 Point Arena (7-2), Saturday
No. 6 South Fork (6-4) at No. 3 Tomales (7-2), Saturday
Winners: Point Arena, Tomales.
Champion: St. Elizabeth.
PLUGGING AWAY: Make sure to check out Cal-Hi Sports Bay Area with Robert Braunstein and Amy Calderone that airs Sunday at 7 and 11 p.m. on KBWB 20 cable 13 and Tuesdays at 6 p.m. Comcast Sportsnet West.
NEW RANKINGS: We won't update and finalize these until after the state finals, which is Dec. 15.
De La Salle (9-0, No. 1 last week)
James Logan (9-0, No. 3)
Serra (7-3, No. 8)
Bellarmine (9-1, No. 2)
Cardinal Newman (8-1-1, No. 6)
Oak Grove (9-1, No. 7)
Valley Christian (7-2-1, No. 9)
San Ramon Valley
, No. 5)
Las Lomas (10-0, No. 14)
Riordan (6-3-1, No. 15)
Menlo-Atherton (9-1, No. 17)
Mitty (7-3, No. 19)
Patrick/St. Vincent (10-0, No. 20)
San Leandro (8-2, No. 24)
Newark Memorial (9-1, No. 18)
Disagree with these picks? Rankings? Have a story idea? E-mail Mitch Stephens at firstname.lastname@example.org.