The last time Concord Triopia saw anything but “00” from its opponent’s side of the scoreboard, the Trojans were on the losing end of a 33-22 game in late September against Camp Point Central, which is still undefeated and still alive in the Class 2A playoffs.
Triopia has posted four consecutive shutouts since — including a 49-0 blowout against Mount Olive last Saturday in the first round of the Class 1A playoffs. That perfect October wasn’t so much an anomaly, but a return to form, as the Trojans outscored their first five opponents 220-14 to start the season with five straight wins.
“We gave up quite a few points against Camp Point Central in our only loss, and we’re a little embarrassed by that,” Triopia coach Rich Thompson said. “Since then we’ve worked pretty hard to turn things around defensively.”
That’s the challenge Central A&M faces Saturday in Concord. And the Raiders might have just the offense to put a big number on the Trojans in the second round of the playoffs.
Central A&M coach Mark Ramsey has opened up his offense this season in son Curtis’ senior year. The younger Ramsey has thrived, totaling almost 2,500 yards of offense (1,255 passing and 1,159 rushing) while accounting for 31 total touchdowns.
“I like running the spread,” Curtis Ramsey said. “It gives me a little more freedom to get the ball into our athletes’ hands. I think it fits perfectly.”
“He’s probably the best quarterback we’ve seen all season,” Thompson added about the Raiders’ signal caller. “Our focus will be trying to keep him contained and keep an eye on him. I know they have weapons that go around him as well.”
That would primarily be junior running back Zack Ballinger (705 rushing yards, 17 touchdowns) and senior flanker Alex Snyder (883 yards of total offense, 11 touchdowns). Ramsey and the Raiders are putting up those numbers in their spread offense behind an offensive line the likes Triopia hasn’t played against all season.
Triopia plays predominantly Class 1A teams in the Western Illinois Valley Conference. The smaller 1A teams didn’t have anything like Dylan DeClerck (6-foot-5, 295 pounds), Logan Long (6-5, 325) or Luke Mathias (6-4, 300) up front.
Central A&M’s size advantage, which it has utilized all year long, will be Triopia’s most significant hurdle. And at this point of the season, the Raiders’ line is clicking.
“They’ve for sure come a long way since the start of the year,” Mark Ramsey said about his offensive line. “They’ve got a lot better understanding of the different looks we’re going to see and how to block it. The worst thing that could happen is when there’s some indecision up front on what to do, and they’ve come a long way in that regard.”
While Triopia hasn’t faced a team with the size of Central A&M, the Raiders certainly haven’t seen much like the Trojans’ Wing-T offense this season. Most Okaw Valley Conference teams have moved to some variation of the spread offense, better utilizing athletes in space. The Wing-T is run-oriented, with several backs sharing the offensive load with plenty of deception (multiple fakes and motion) thrown in for good measure.
Triopia is rushing for just more than 300 yards per game as a team out of the Wing-T. Senior running back Derrek Schone leads the way with 98 carries for 751 yards and 16 touchdowns. His backfield teammates Cody Curry and Matt Parker have rushed for 1,255 yards and 10 scores combined, and quarterback Tanner Huddleston has scored 11 times on the ground while rushing for 296 yards.
Central A&M did see a few plays out of the Wing-T last week in its first-round win against Milford. That shift in styles gave the Raiders trouble early on, but they made the necessary adjustments and wound up beating the Bearcats 55-27.
“I think that was a good learning game for us, and it’s going to help us prepare for this week,” Curtis Ramsey said about the Milford game. “I know that (Triopia has) some big, powerful backs, so we’re going to have to lock in on that. You can’t really lock in on one running back with this team. Every single one of them is explosive.”
And with all those talented backs, don’t expect Triopia to throw the ball much. Huddleston had his most passing attempts of the season with 10 against Camp Point and threw for a season-high 181 yards and three touchdowns on 6-of-7 passing against Pleasant Hill.
“We try to get the defense thinking run, and play-action pass,” Thompson said. “We think we can throw it. We just don’t throw a lot.”
Mark Ramsey said the Wing-T used to be more prevalent in the Okaw. It takes a few defensive tweaks to prepare for the Wing-T instead of the spread, but the Raiders’ coach has several specific ways in mind his team can work to stop the Trojans.
“Our defensive front has to do a better job of securing gaps. We can’t get out-leveraged on the outside,” he said. “We need to have people run to the football and make tackles. For us, that’s going to be the key.”