As a longtime assistant football coach in the Public High League and as the former head coach of perennial league baseball champion Gateway Jaguars, Ronald Rodgers leaves nothing to chance and takes nothing for granted.
Such was the case last Saturday afternoon, when he was called back into his offensive coordinator’s position with the Wolverines after a semi-retirement as first Brennan Spain and most recently William Franklin inherited the duties. With Franklin on administrative leave and Spain now an assistant with the East St. Louis Flyers, Rodgers was back in his element in dialing up the best Wolverine-worthy calls to get the Wolverines the victory against the arch-rival Sumner Bulldogs. His game was not to put Vashon’s quarterback Clifton Dickens in risky possessions by passing prolifically.
“We have to run the ball and not turn it,” assured Rodgers. “We have the guys capable of running ball witth the twins (Charvon and Charvez Lewis).”
Mission accomplished: Charvon Lewis had a monster game with 186 yards rushing on 15 carries, while Charvez Lewis. One of Charvon’s runs was a 30-yard cutback for a touchdown in which key Sumner defenders were caught way out of position.
“We had a great game and I just listened to our coaches,” noted Charvon Lewis,
“We’re also taught to fight for more yards on every down,” added Charvez Lewis.
In the final analysis, things couldn’t have gone much smoother for the Wolverines offense, thanks in part with Wolverines head coach Reginald Ferguson also calling some plays, including a slick end-around run by Vashon’s dynamic receiver Anthony Durant as the club rolled to a 46-6 rout. Dickens only had to pass 11 times and he completed six for 110 yards and two touchdowns, including what may have been the catch of day to Durant on a 26-yard scoring strike. Despite giving up a notable height advantage, the 5-7 Durant managed to outposition and outmuscle his way around Sumner’s taller 6-2 Deandre Lee to snare the ball from around his waist.
On the season, Durant leads a talented receiving corps with the most yards, 604, on 39 receptions. Dahlen Jones leads Vashon in catches overall with 46 for 462 yards. Meanwhile Dickens, who missed the club’s only league loss (a 20-14 decision to the champion Gateway Jaguars), has completed 74 of 125 passes for just under 60 percent and thrown for 1,380 yards and 10 touchdowns. Charvon Lewis is the club’s top rusher with a modest 689 yards on just 67 carries for a splendid 10.3 average per carry. It’s safe to surmise that had Vashon run the ball more often earlier in the season Lewis would have much more yards and Vashon might be better than its 5-3 mark going into Saturday’s playoffs against the visiting Windsor Owls (2-7) of Imperial, Mo. Game time is 3 p.m. at Sumner’s Tuskegee Airmen Field.
But defensively, Vashon has been steady, even through losses to Gateway and DeSmet. The Wolverines defense scored on back-back fumble possessions in that aforementioned 20-14 defeat to the Jaguars and duplicated the feat in a rout of league foe Soldan. The Lewis twins, both of whom are roughly 170 pounds, the Stockard cousins (Davion and Levi, both of whom are defensive linemen), linebacker Jaylin Wayne, the club’s leading tackler with 82,Tyler Murray, Kevin Oliver and others have had their moments making plays and creating turnovers. When all is clicking well for the upstart Wolverines, who long ago erased the memories of a two-win campaign last season, they look like a champion.
Small wonder Marvin Neals, a member of the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame for amassing over 700 victories as a high school basketball coach with Soldan and Cardinal Ritter watched them last Saturday and emerged impressed as he had previously this season.
“I didn’t think that anybody in the PHL would beat Vashon this year after I saw the way they beat Career Academy (20-0),” noted Neals, as he watched the Vashon-Sumner game. “I like the way they are playing today. I was surprised to hear that Gateway had beaten Vashon.”
The way Windsor coach Greg Westmayer sees it, less of Vashon’s offense would be to his advantage. Consequently he will aim towards making the most out of his own chances. The Owls have passed considerably less than Vashon: Owls quarterback Kael Ward has thrown 78 passes, completing 35 for 592 yards. Backup Tyler Stenger is 15 of 27 for 158 yards. their leading receiver, Jake Baker, has just 12 catches but for a lofty 329 yards, a 27.4 average.But on the ground, the Owls have two very active ball-carriers in Brandon Fouts who has 794 yards on 109 carries (7.3 avg.) and Stenger with 642 yards on 89 attempts (7.2 avg.)
“We will need to limit our penalties and negative plays to keep us in successful down and distance situations,”said Westmayer. “We need to maintain long drives, hopefully ending in scoring drives, but also to take us much time off the clock as possible.We want to limit the amount of offensive possessions for Vashon. Defensively let’s just say we hope we can get in their way enough to slow them down. I don’t know that we’ll be able to stop them completely”
The Owls top defenders have been senior linebackers Nick Hunziker (5-11, 187) and Chris Grouch (5-11, 192) and senior tackle Alex Ganoa (5-8, 226). Hunziker has 78 tackles, three sacks, a fumble recovery and an interception. As a unit, the Owls have just eight quarterback sacks, in stark contrast to the Wolverines who have 38 as a team. Levi Stockard (6-8, 230) has nine sacks all by himself. Not far behind are linemates Davion Stockard (6-0, 190) and Tate Ward (5-10, 240) with seven sacks apiece. But sacks or no sacks, Westmayer will need his own defensive units to derail the Wolverines offense.
“If we can get a few stops and maybe pressure them enough so they can make mistakes and get into long-yardage situations, maybe we can be successful, “added Westmayer. “We’ll cross our fingers.”