Falcons feature a number of deep scoring threats

by: JOHN BREWINGTON - Gage Bumgardner attemps to break free of the Wildcat defense.  Through the air, Bumgardner has become much more dangerous, completing 16 passes for 129 yards in the loss to Wilsonville. The best thing about football is there’s always a game next week. Teams don’t have the luxury of focusing on the game that was just played, but instead have to get right back on the horse and prepare for the next one, no matter what the last result.

Which is the case for St. Helens this week, fresh off a frustrating loss in their home opener against Wilsonville. The Lions showed promise and repeatedly knocked on the door of the end zone, but left multiple chances on the field. The last few days have been about fixing the little things, and looking for redemption this Friday, when Liberty is in town.

Liberty’s offense is much different than the team St. Helens saw in Wilsonville. The Falcons use a pair of quarterbacks to do their business, but lean on the arm of senior Blake Walker. The first year varsity starter was accurate in their opening loss to Hillsboro, completing two thirds of his passes for 128 yards and no interceptions. On the ground though, Walker isn’t much of a threat. Both he and fellow quarterback Mike McBride lost yardage overall, but their lack of rushing prowess is made up by the talent and speed of senior Matt Langbehn.

Langbehn was injured last season, and his return this year for Liberty has made a huge impact. He takes the bulk of the carries for Liberty, and racked up 148 yards against Hillsboro, including an 89 yard touchdown midway through the fourth quarter. Langbehn leads a group of seven rushers that will all see the ball at some point or another.

Walker’s favorite target so far has been receiver Austin Mason, who is good for a major chunk of Walker’s completed passes. Senior Byron Greenlee is another threat. At 6’3” and 205 pounds, Greenlee is bigger and heavier than almost any defensive back St. Helens has, save senior tight end Corey West. The difficulty in containing a player like that is twofold.

“(With Greenlee) you have pretty much the whole package, you’re fast and you’re big and it’s really hard to stop it,” said West. The trick to stopping a player like Greenlee, according to West, is to stay close and attempt to knock the ball away in the air. Being able to catch such a tall player at the high point of his jump is essential because “guys that big can usually jump.”

Mason and Greenlee will put considerably more pressure on St. Helens defensive secondary than they saw against Wilsonville, when quarterback Tyler Carskadon completed only five passes in the entire game. Liberty has balance between their run and passing games, and while the Lions can’t afford to focus on one or the other, their defensive line has already shown they are extremely good against the run.

What the Lions need to do

There is a fine risk/reward line the Lions will have to toe with Walker at quarterback. Loading up the box with eight defenders instead of seven allows the defense to put extra pressure on the passer, as well as defending the run between the tackles. The free safety moves up to take one of the gaps on the weak side, meaning no defender will have to take on two offensive players at once. Senior Jacob Zartman is a handful even in normal situations, and if the Lions add the extra defender, he will be able to force Walker into bad throws or lost yardage.

If Walker is able to get passes off quickly, however, going with such an aggressive defense up front is dangerous. Moving a player forward means the secondary defense is down to three players, a strong safety and a pair of corners, to lock down however many routes Liberty sends forward. Greenlee, with his size and ability to stretch the field, might demand a double team at times, leaving just one defender for the rest of the field. Head coach Jared Phillips and his staff will have to make the call whether to move forward and attack Walker or hang back and wait for Walker to roll out. He hasn’t shown any ability to run, and locking down the secondary could open up opportunities for St. Helens to get to Walker far behind the line of scrimmage.

On offense, the Lions should continue to do what they’ve been up to so far. Bumgardner’s accuracy is improving, well up from his average of .495 last season. With such a strong verity of targets, St. Helens should take advantage of their depth at receiver, especially junior Justin Helgerson who caught four passes for 38 yards against Wilsonville, and seniors Tanner Long and Michael Enyart. Liberty’s secondary has given up yards in bunches this season, and the Lions should take full advantage of the weaknesses down the field.

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