Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central has two things going for it when it takes on Manchester tomorrow night in a Division 6 regional final.
The Falcons (10-1) have playoff experience having reached the state semifinals the last two years.
St. Mary Catholic Central also features a crafty running attack that utilizes misdirection in a multiple-back backfield.
The Manchester Flying Dutchmen (10-1) face the tough task of slowing the rushing onslaught tomorrow at the Falcons' home field at 7:30 p.m.
"We have four backs that can get the ball at any time," said Falcon coach Jack Giarmo. "It's all about execution. It doesn't matter how the defense lines up, our linemen are taught how to block everything."
Giarmo, who is in his eighth year at SMCC, said he picked up the "straight-T" trapping based-offense from a fellow Michigan high school coach.
Giarmo has three runners who have each rushed for 850 yards or more. Senior Thomas Lieto (126 rushes for 1,230 yards), junior Linzie Robinson (105 for 1,132) and junior Josh Bicy (81 for 851) all can acquire yards in large chunks.
Senior fullback Neal Howey, the team's third-leading rusher (57 for 489), has been sidelined with a bad ankle and is doubtful for tomorrow night's game.
"I know that in our offense we will find a hole somewhere eventually," he said. "There are too many places to run with the straight-T. You can't cover everyone. You just find the hole. We set things up."
One big factor in the Falcons' win over Blissfield in a district final last Saturday was the ability of the backs to consistently break tackles in the open field.
"Once they get past that first level and to the second level, it is pure desire," Giarmo said. "It's desire to break tackles."
Bicy, the quarterback, threw the ball just four times last weekend. But the Falcons still average 44 points per game and 407 yards per game. The team's 4,476 yards this season are the most amassed in school history.
"Our offensive line is our heart and soul," Bicy said.
The key to the system is execution and being disciplined, Giarmo said.
He said the offense would go nowhere without three key offensive linemen. Senior right tackle Lucas Whitman (6-1, 250 pounds), senior center Ken Hall (5-11, 240) and senior right tackle Mike Rapp (6-2, 270) are all captains.
"They work hard in the weight room and they have a thorough understanding of our offense," Giarmo said.
Lost in the offense's explosiveness is a solid Falcon defense, which has given up only 12.2 points and 231 total yards per game.
"We've played good defense all year. We have a bend-but-not-break type of defense," Giarmo said. "Our kids make good plays."
Jack's son, Anthony Giarmo, is the team's leading tackler with 137. The junior linebacker was named first team All-Huron League. Senior safety Dan Caldwell is second on the team in tackles (120).
Only three players compete on both sides of the ball, so the Falcons are fresh through the entire game.
"That really helps in the fourth quarter," Giarmo said.
SMCC also has the advantage of having reached the state final four the last two years only to suffer staggering defeats. The Falcons lost on a last second Hail Mary pass last year and fell by two points in 2003.
"We try not to live in the past," Giarmo said. "If we talk about last year it brings back bad memories. It hurt the kids for awhile. If you dwell in the past so much, you bury yourself. But you learn from it. We face adversity in our lives and we have to keep going."
Giarmo said he has never faced Manchester, which averages 28 points per game and gives up only 14 per contest. But he said the Flying Dutchmen have a good tailback and a quarterback that can throw the long ball to two great receivers.
"Defensively they are quick," Giarmo said.
"We've gone back to the basics. We won't do anything fancy. We'll run five or six plays. When you're in the playoffs you do what got you there."