Dan Thorpe loves the challenge that comes with playoff football preparations when tackling the unknown becomes top priority.
But the Marmion Academy coach readily admits that trying to get a handle on Prairie Ridge's triple option offense has given him a serious headache. Not only is the Wolves' run-happy attack the complete opposite of the spread schemes the Cadets are used to seeing, but trying to simulate it in the days leading up to Saturday's 1 p..m. Class 6A second-round playoff game hasn't been easy.
Thorpe has resorted to taking the football out of the equation, coaching his players to cover their assignments rather than trying to guess where the ball may be going. He has shifted speedy running backs to quarterback to give his defense a better look at what it will face against Prairie Ridge.
But as the architect of the Wolves' offensive game plan, coach Chris Schremp admits that figuring out where the ball is going is only half the battle.
"With our offense, there's timing involved and it takes a long time to get that timing down," Schremp said. "Then you talk about speed and that's the next thing involved and that's the other thing defenses have trouble with.
"That's something we've got on our side."
As a team that hasn't been overly successful in dealing with the triple option and that has lost three times (2007, 2009, 2011) in the playoffs to the Wolves, Marmion understands things won't get any easier on Saturday. The Cadets have several key players, including linebacker and leading tackler Mike Montalbano, slowed by injury.
For Thorpe, though, attempting to game plan for a new challenge is when the real fun begins.
"That's what gets your juices flowing," Thorpe said. "Hopefully, the kids pick up on that energy of trying to deal with something different.
"But once you reach the playoffs, it's about what you do. So rather than trying to worry about what they do so much, it's about what you do."
Prairie Ridge (6-4) has won four straight games and continued to roll on offense last week against Lakes when all of the Wolves' 61 offensive plays came on the run. Despite losing quarterback Brett Covalt to an injury in the second quarter, the Wolves managed to score just enough and then make a late defensive stand to move on.
Covalt has been cleared to play after he was deemed concussion-symptom free in a medical examination on Saturday.
In the win over Lakes, five different ball carriers split the workload as Covalt, running backs Zack Greenberg and Steven Ladd, along with backup quarterback Luke Annen, all had double-digit carries. With so many offensive options that have all become effective over the past month, Thorpe knows that stopping the Wolves requires as much deception on his part as the Wolves rely on.
"You have to be able to confuse the coaching staff in what you're doing defensively and, therefore, you have to confuse the quarterback," Thorpe said. "They're so well coached that the players know a variety of defenses and they're able to audible to a different blocking scheme or to a different play. It's tough to prepare for that."
But despite how well the Wolves are playing on both sides of the ball, Schremp won't allow his team to get complacent. Starting Saturday with Marmion (8-2),each week brings new challenges.
"(The wins) are huge, but we have to go week by week," senior offensive lineman Shane Evans said. "We've got to go 1-0 (against Marmion) and if we do that, we can make it to the next game."