Concord head football coach Craig Koehler and his staff have seen the flexbone offense run by the Warsaw Tigers for a number of years.
But that doesn't mean Koehler has the answer to stopping it.
Friday at Jake Field, the Minutemen will host Warsaw with at least second place in the Northern Lakes Conference on the line. Both teams are 5-1 in the conference, while only Plymouth is 6-0. The Rockies play at NorthWood on Friday and if the Panthers win, the winner of the Warsaw-Concord game will share the NLC title with the Rockies.
Warsaw is ranked No. 7 in Class 6A, while Concord is No. 8 in 5A.
Warsaw coach Bart Curtis loves the flexbone offense, which is not only tough to defend, but also takes precious time off the clock and limits the opponents possessions in a game.
"I think if you talk to 10 guys, they will all tell you they have the Silver Bullet on how to stop the flexbone,'' Koehler said. "We scrimmage Mishawaka every year and obviously Bart ran the offense there and we had to try and stop it. Plymouth has run it in the past and now we're seeing it from Warsaw, so we're seeing it quite often.
"There are times where we have defended the offense well, but other times, we've stunk it up and can't get our defense off the field. We really have to convince our players that it will take a lot of effort defensively and we'll have to play as hard or harder than we have all year, because that's what Warsaw will do. It's a tough offense to defend, but it's more difficult because of the way Warsaw comes off the ball and the confidence they play with.''
Last week in a key victory over NorthWood, the Tigers scored 35 straight points after trailing 7-0. Warsaw threw just two passes in the game – one was intercepted and the other caused a pass interference penalty on the Panthers. In fact, Warsaw hasn't completed a pass since week six against Goshen.
But it didn't matter.
Warsaw rushed for 417 yards in the game, led by 164 on just eight carries from halfback Blake Marsh – who scored on runs of 56, 51 and 24 yards. Quarterback Wyatt Amiss added 125 yards, while fullback Juan Jaramillo added 82 tough yards on 21 carries. Marsh had missed the Tigers' last three games due to an injury. Plus, Warsaw's entire offensive line is made up of seniors.
"I think one of the real keys is to not give up a bunch of big plays, because if you do that, your chances of winning go down quite a bit,'' Koehler said. "We want them in second-and-seven or third-and-four situations. They want to eat the clock and possess the ball. But we have some good players on the defensive side of the ball and hopefully, we'll be able to make them punt some.''
However, Concord's defense has been stout this season, as they've limited opponents to just 85 points in eight games so far in 2019.
"Concord's defense is physical, fast, gap-sound and very well coached ... I think they're the most physical defense in the NLC,'' Curtis said. "However, rules state ball must be snapped prior to play clock hitting zero, so we will run some plays.''
But don't overlook a Concord offense that has playmakers at every key position, led by senior quarterback Ethan Cain and classmate Carter Neveraski at halfback.
Cain has completed 137 of his 218 passes for 1,517 yards and 16 touchdowns this season, while Neveraski leads the team with 47 catches out of the backfield. Jack D'Arcy (35 catches) and Amarion Moore (28) are also key targets for Cain from the wide receiver positions.
"Concord has tremendous team speed all around,'' Curtis said. "It's not just one player, it's offense, defense and special teams. Obviously, Moore and Cain stand out, but they're far from the only ones.
"They are more interested in throwing the football than NorthWood, but they also can run the ball well. I'm not sure anybody can completely stop Concord or slow them down. Concord attacks across a broad front and utilizes the entire width of the field and all 100 yards of depth. We will need to continue to not be stupid in the secondary by allowing the ball to get thrown over our heads and most importantly, play with confidence defensively.''
This will be the 56th meeting of the two teams, with Warsaw holding a 28-27 lead in the series.
• NO. 1 AT RICE: Although Elkhart Central won't have the opportunity to win the Northern Indiana Conference North Division title on Friday, they'll still have a great chance to open some eyes around the state.
That's because the 6-2 Blue Blazers will host unbeaten and No. 1 (Class 4A) New Prairie at Rice Field.
The game will feature two of the top rushers in the state in Central's Mark Brownlee (1,440 yards and 23 touchdowns in seven games) and Cougar quarterback Chase Ketterer (1,556 and 23 in eight games). Ketterer is coming in off a career-high 262-yard rushing game in a win over South Bend Riley last Friday.
Central fell to 2-2 in the NIC North last Friday with a tough loss to Penn.
Game time at Rice is 7:30.
• VENUE CHANGE: Speaking of Elkhart Central, it looks like the Blue Blazers will get the opportunity to play on a grass field prior to the Class 5A sectional finals.
Thanks in part to Channel 46 broadcasting the Tippecanoe Valley-South Bend Washington game on Friday, Oct. 25, Central's game against South Bend Adams will be played on the grass at Clay Field, rather than the turf of South Bend's School Field.
The Blazers will play all nine of their regular season games on field turf, but Clay Field has natural grass, giving Central the opportunity to play on the field prior to the sectional finals, which is expected to be either at Mishawaka or Elkhart Memorial.
New Prairie at Elkhart Central (C), 7:30
Northridge at Elkhart Memorial (C)
Warsaw at Concord (C)
Jimtown at SB Clay (C)
Plymouth at NorthWood (C)
Goshen at Wawasee (C)
Churubusco at Fairfield (C)
Penn at Mishawaka (C)
All games are at 7 p.m. unless noted.