High School Football

Battery Creek football team running smoothly going into playoffs

sfastenau@beaufortgazette.comNovember 1, 2012 

Battery Creek's running game has plenty of backs to rely on, including DeAndre Johnson (5).

FILE -- THE BEAUFORT GAZETTE

Raekwon Smalls remembers the play well, remembers because he spent so much time working on making the proper read that he didn't forget when he delivered.

Battery Creek High School's sophomore quarterback, during a September game at Ridgeland-Hardeeville, barked "17 counter option" in the huddle. He drew his defender close enough to smell his breath before releasing a pitch to running back Yuneek Crittendon, who sprinted more than 40 yards for a score.

The play helped show the Dolphins' grasp of their option offense, the baby of offensive coordinator Harry Sprouse, who is closing in on five decades in the business. In 2011, coach Jim Shuman's first season, Battery Creek might not have executed such a play, which helped Battery Creek erase an early 12-0 deficit and eventually win the game.

In Year 2, the understanding is there, and so is Battery Creek's confidence, whether it plays with the lead or not. There are still issues, Shuman and Sprouse admit, but Battery Creek players and coaches carry a belief in their offensive system into Friday's home game with Waccamaw to open the Class 2-A Division I playoffs.

"I think last year we came into a game hoping we could score," said senior running back DeAndre Johnson. "This year we come in knowing that we can score, and all we have to do is come out there and play football, do what our coaches ask us to do."

Battery Creek's latest comeback was manufactured last week, a victory over Academic Magnet to finish 5-5 -- the Dolphins' best regular-season record since 2002, the same year it last hosted a playoff game.

A better understanding of the system has helped with the success on offense, as has better-suited competition in Class 2-A and the right mix of players. Four running backs shuffle through the backfield during a game -- Johnson, Crittendon, D.J. Franklin and Darrin Peeks. Each offers something a little different.

And they all count on Smalls, a second-year varsity player who only picked up the quarterback position as an eighth-grader. When first learning Sprouse's offense, Smalls locked eyes with his running back and failed to read the defensive end. Coaches used tackling dummies to help Smalls make the proper read, shuffling them around to emulate different looks he could expect throughout the game.

While he's still making progress, Smalls has gained the trust of his teammates and coaches. At only 5-foot-6 with a quiet demeanor, Smalls doesn't possess the take-charge presence of some quarterbacks, but he's learning to lead, starting with his offensive line.

"Without them, nothing would work," Smalls said. "When we make big plays, I tell them good job, tell them to keep it up."

Shuman created some incentives for his offense this season. After a big rushing day at North Charleston, when the Dolphins gained close to 400 yards, he pushed his running backs to rush for 500 at Burke.

The Dolphins' backs surpassed 500 yards, and this week huddled on the practice field to decide where they wanted to go for pizza, Shuman's treat.

Battery Creek coaches feel like their team will have the edge Friday, from what they've seen on film. Waccamaw has shown a variety of looks in an attempt to find an identity and doesn't possess the speed of some of the teams Battery Creek has seen this year, Dolphins coaches said, perhaps opening the edges to the option.

"We can't underestimate anyone, but we're expecting to beat them," Crittendon said.

There's the confidence that comes with belief in the system.

"Any system will work," said Sprouse, who has run a similar offense during his 47 years coaching, "if the kids buy into it."

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