FALL RIVER – Their ground attack is the truck members of Fall River’s prep football has ridden into the state semifinals of the WIAA Division 7 playoffs – a powerful half-ton pick-up the Pirates hope has a few more miles on it to drive over undefeated Black Hawk Friday night in Middleton.
At the wheel? No, it’s not 1,000-yard rusher Davyn Braker and Luke Figol, Tanner Liebenthal, and Sam Nelson, who combined among all four have tallied 2,666 yards.
It’s left tackle Skyler Byrne, left guard Chandler Firary, center Jack Gould, right guard Keegan Wodill, and right tackle Devin Talg, who at a combined 1,145 pounds are indeed a half-ton of twisted steel intent on pushing away anything in their path.
“We take great pride in paving the way for those guys back there – they’re outstanding players,” Firary said of the running backs and QB. “They always give us their best, and it’s our job to make sure the lanes are open for them so that they can hit it.”
“If you’re going to be successful or you’re going to fail – it starts with the big boys up front,” added Pirates’ head coach Joe Zander.
The truth is, it’s not all muscle and might that has helped Fall River’s hogs have so much success – it’s a great deal of savvy, too.
Byrne, Firary, and Talg are all seniors while Gould and Wodill are both juniors, meaning the five of them have been starting together for two years now and playing together for a number of years going back to their youth football days.
Their experience in Fall River’s veer offense has allowed them to operate on a more sophisticated level than a lot of the defenses they’re up against.
“Just a little secret language we have with each other. It’s just expanded over the years, and it’s pretty effective,” Firary said of the communication that goes on between them at the line of scrimmage as they diagnose what the defense is doing and call out assignments.
But it’s not just Xs and Os, it’s also understanding each others’ strengths and weaknesses and being accountable to one another.
“You know what that person is capable of,” said Wodill, the offensive lineman of the year in the Trailways Small Conference and a first team all-conference O-lineman both of the last two years.
“It’s a brotherhood out there. We all have each other’s back. I understand that I have job to do and I need give 100 percent – because the guy next to me is giving 100 percent,” added Firary, also a first team all-conference O-lineman this year. “I know their pride and physicality, and I need to match that.”
What helps with regards to communication up front and diagnosing what the defense is doing is that Figol – the team’s junior quarterback – has started for the last two and a half years and is in full command of the offense throughout the entire duration of the play clock, giving the linemen time to sort out their assignments at the line of scrimmage.
“His experience is paying off big time for us,” Zander said of Figol, the player of the year in the Trailways Small. “You’ve got to make adjustments. You’ve got to recognize and read it.”
It’s all added up to the best running game in the conference for the second year in a row and a ground attack that’s averaging 262.2 yards per contest headed into Friday’s tilt with Black Hawk.
That’s meant helmets decorated in more than just a couple Pirates stickers, as each offensive lineman gets one sticker for every pancake block they make and one for every time Fall River has two 100-yard rushers in a single game.
Best among them in that regard? That would be Wodill, who Zander estimated to be averaging three pancake blocks per game this year and who had 10 in a single game against Rio last year.
He’s “a mauler,” Zander said. “That’s why he won offensive lineman of the year in the conference.”
All but Gould play either full time or sparingly on defense, too – and being that the four of them were two-way players last year as well, they knew they couldn’t enter camp back on Aug. 1 in anything less than peak condition.
“They knew what it took,” Zander said. “They came into camp in real good shape, and it’s shown.”
It sure has, with 60 percent of the line – Talg made second team all-conference – landing on the Trailways Small’s postseason awards list.
But personal accolades have nothing to do with what motivates them, really.
“They’re like most offensive lineman are – they love to run block,” Zander said. “And they love to do it for the guys that they’ve grown up with.”
“They’re brothers,” he added. “And they want to do whatever they’ve got to do to get their brother that’s carrying the ball over the goal-line.”