In Play with Tom Markowski

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Riverview’s switch to the T-formation has put pep in the offense, Pirates to play for Division 3 region title on Friday

By: Tom Markowski, November 5, 2017, 4:36 pm

Riverview – Derek McLaughlin knew his program at Riverview needed a change, a different look, and a different offensive philosophy if they were to reach a higher level of success.

When McLaughlin coached at Southgate Anderson, from 2009-13, he ran the veer. When he came to Riverview in 2014 McLaughlin used the I-formation. The Pirates qualified for the playoffs in each of McLaughlin’s first two seasons but finishing 6-4 both times just didn’t measure up.

Following the ’15 season McLaughlin contacted coaches Kevin Bartz at Edwardsburg and Tim Baechler at Canton to discuss the possibility of switching to the full-house, T-formation offense that Bartz and Baechler have used so successfully.

Even before McLaughlin made these contacts, he had become intrigued by the T-formation because of the success Jack Giarmo (now at Gibraltar Carlson) had coaching this offense at Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central, which, like Riverview, is a member of the Huron League. St. Mary C.C. won the Division 6 title in McLaughlin’s first season at Riverview and that planted a seed.

McLaughlin and his staff made the switch before last season and there’s little doubt that the move paved the wave for the success the Pirates are enjoying this season.

Riverview defeated Carlson and Giarmo, 38-14, last Friday in a Division 3 district final. It’s Riverview’s first district championship since 2004. The Pirates (10-1) will play at Dearborn Divine Child (10-1) on Friday in a region final. Should Riverview win it would be the program’s first region title since 2002 when it reached the Division 4 final.

“I knew Kevin from his days at Berrien Springs, where I went to school,” McLaughlin said. “Baechler has been very helpful to us. We met with their coaches and we’re just trying to take what we’ve learned from there and run with it.

“You have to sell it to your staff first. It’s important for us to protect our defense for them to be successful. We’ve had a lot of success this year.”

If run properly, the T-formation is a ball control offense that, because of all of the deception, can produce big plays as well. So, if a team can control the clock with its running game, the defense gets its share of rest on the sidelines.

The coaches and the players have bought in 100 percent. McLaughlin said the players play for each other. The offense is not designed to feature any one player. It enhances the team concept, which fits in with the concepts McLaughlin preaches.

“We block for each other,” he said. “When one carries the ball the others carry out their fakes to the max. We work for a common goal. And our defense has gotten better. They practice hard and play for each other. And they have fun.”

Winning is often a byproduct of cohesiveness. When team success rises above individual goals winning usually follows.

This success didn’t come immediately. There were growing pains. Riverview was 2-7 last season and most of the starters this season went through tough times.

Junior quarterback Dominic Wood is one such player. He saw time at cornerback last season and got a shot at playing quarterback. He suffered a concussion during the season, which ended his season. Wood has come back, stronger physically, and has rushed for 620 yards and thrown for 317. But more than the numbers, Wood has become a leader in the huddle and on the sidelines. Often a junior will defer to the upperclassmen but McLaughlin has been pleased with Wood’s maturity.

“It’s been a seamless fit,” McLaughlin said. “Wood is a dangerous runner. And he’s not afraid to stick his nose in there.”

The other three in the backfield are all seniors. Halfbacks Cam Rogers and Zach Guthrie have both rushed for over 1,100 yards and fullback Zach Warlick has rushed for 500 yards. As a team, Riverview has 4,233 rushing yards.

Riverview led Carlson, 24-7, at halftime. Carlson scored on the first possession of the second half to move to within 24-14. On the next series Warlick ran 50 yards for a touchdown to push the lead back to 17 points.

It wasn’t all good news for the Pirates as they lost Rogers (broken collarbone) in the second quarter.

“Injuries are a part of the game,” McLaughlin said. “We’re looking forward to the challenge this week. It’s not often you get to play in a highly competitive game as this one will be. (Divine Child) is a great program and their well-coached.”