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Explosive offenses rule high school football – usually

There was a time when a few high school football teams in North Carolina could score a lot of points. Now almost every team can.

Maxton, led by future Wake Forest University star James McDougald, averaged a record 61.8 points per game in 1975. McDougald led the school to an 86-8 win over North Duplin in the 1A state championship that year.

But high-scoring teams were a rarity before the onslaught of offenses designed to create space for play makers, where they can beat one defender and get to the end zone.

“There is more pressure than ever on the defense,” said Wake Forest coach Reggie Lucas. “There are so many great athletes that can make big plays.”

Garner’s Nyheim Hines has rushed for 34 touchdowns and caught passes for eight touchdowns. He has scored more points than 261 of the NCHSAA’s 319 teams in 1987, when Anthony Barbour set the then-national record with 47 touchdowns during a 15-0 season.

From 1970 through 1989 only 18 N.C. High School Athletic Association teams averaged 40 or more points. Eight area teams are averaging 40 or more this season and from 2000 to 2009, Charlotte Independence averaged 40 or more points in eight of 10 seasons, including 54 points per game in 2004.

In 1972, Sylva-Webster (48.4 points per game) was the only NCHSAA team to average 40 or more points. Eighty of the NCHSAA’s 334 schools that year averaged less than 10 points that year. Only 21 teams scored at least 28 points a game.

But teams didn’t have to score a lot to win in those days. In 1972, 246 NCHSAA football teams averaged less than 20 points, including 9-1-1 Hickory (18.8), 12-1 High Point Central (19.6) and 8-2-1 Lillington (16.0). Millbrook went 6-4 averaging 13.5 points.

Broughton was 4-4-2 that year despite averaging 11.2 points. The Caps lost games to Hillside, Enloe and Wilson by identical 12-11 scores.

This year, Garner scored 40, 44 and 45 points in its three losses. Franklinton scored 57 against South Granville and Pittsboro Northwood scored 54 against Southern Durham, also in losses.

Wake Forest’s Lucas said for his team to be competitive, it needs to average 28 points. When he played at Wake Forest High in the late ’80s and when he was the defensive coordinator at the school, the team goal was to shut out the other team. The most the team should ever give up was 14 points.

He has had to adjust that figure, though.

“There are so many kids playing now that there are lots more athletes to choose from,” Lucas said. “And there are so many ways to move the ball now. In 11 games, we’re probably going to see eight different spread attacks.”

There isn’t enough time to prepare extensively for each team and even if there was preparation time, teams have a difficult time duplicating their opponents’ offense.

Former Garner coach Nelson Smith, who coached the Trojans to the state semifinals the last two years with clubs that averaged 44.5 and 44.0 points, said offense is dictating high school play.

He believes changes in off-season workouts are a factor in the scoring. “We used to run, lift and do conditioning work in the summers,” he said. “Some teams play 7-on-7 most of the summer now. They can get pretty sophisticated with their passing.”

Rule changes have helped push scoring totals up, too. The clock has stopped after incompletions for years but a rule change about 20 years ago stops the clock on changes of possession, too.

“When I was coaching football, we thought our offense was really clicking if we ran 45 plays in a game,” said Robert B. Gardner, the executive director of the National Federation of State High School Associations and a former high school football coach. “The clock ran a lot more then. The games are longer now.”

Wakefield had 80 plays in a 32-26 win over Wake Forest and Cary rushed the ball 61 times in a 48-14 loss to Wake Forest earlier this year. Garner ran 72 plays in 48-45 loss to Knightdale last week and the Knights ran 58.

Smith said many high school coaches are responding to the offensive production by putting their best athletes on offense. “You used to start with your defense,” said Smith, who was on the Garner staff in 1987 when the state championship team allowed 10.3 points per game. “Now you know you have to put up some points.”

The offenses are so prolific that at times it seems that teams can’t help scoring. Area teams have scored 50 or more points 62 times this season, including in nine games last week.

But scoring isn’t a bad thing.

“The game of high school football has never been more popular,” the Federation’s Gardner said. “There are an awful lot of young people enjoying the game.”

And defense can still win games.

Eight of the top 10 area teams in scoring defense are in The NO’s top 15 rankings.

Last Friday, Leesville Road defeated Wake Forest 21-19 in a game decided by the defenses. But even in what amounts to a defensive struggle this year, Wake Forest ran 67 plays.

Stevens: 919-829-8910

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