Mann, Dawkins star in Jasper's triple optionSeptember 30, 2020
By COREY STOLZENBACH
JASPER — Jasper began its return to the Southern Indiana Athletic Conference with a 5-0 start in 2020. The Wildcats couldn’t push it to 6-0 Sept. 25 at Evansville Central, but their triple option offense has brought success — win or lose — in 2020, and at the forefront of all of it are the senior duo of quarterback Blake Mann and fullback Lance Dawkins.
Mann has managed to chuck three touchdown passes this season, but it’s on the ground, however, where the opposition has had difficulty corralling him. Mann has often been the man for Jasper this season, rushing for 707 yards and 10 touchdowns on 93 carries. He’s rushed for 100 yards in four out of Jasper’s six games, the other two saw him run for 89 and 86 yards apiece.
A pulled groin kept Dawkins out Sept. 11 against Evansville Bosse, and he's kept competing hard since his return. His numbers are in the same range as his quarterback. He’s tallied 613 rushing yards and six scores on 101 carries in five games for the Wildcats. He, too, has had four games of 100 yards rushing or more.
Hand the Wildcats a loss, like the Bears did in Week 6, and it’s still tough to slow the two of them down, as evidenced by both getting their 100 yards and a rushing touchdown in spite of the loss.
So, just what is it that allows these two seniors to run rampant in this triple option offense?
“It all just depends up front, the offensive line getting a good push and then reading the right person, and if I end up keeping it, then I’m just going to go as hard as I can while I have the ball, but if I give it, carry out my fake, then I’m going to expect Lance to run as hard as he can every time, too,” Mann said.
“As long as Blake makes the right reads, we have so many weapons in the backfield,” Dawkins added. “Obviously Blake — he’s very versatile, I’m more of like a power runner. Then we got our two slot backs (senior Caleb Burger and juniors Isaac Day, Luke Dawkins and Ian Giesler all rotate in), which can make plays down the field for us as well.”
The Wildcats adopted the triple option last year in Coach Tony Lewis’ first season with the team. Mann and Dawkins ran a more traditional “I” Back offense during their sophomore year in 2018. Dawkins told of Lewis running a spread offense during the summer of 2019, but the Wildcats realized they didn’t have the personnel for that before going triple option.
“Our offensive coordinator, Matt Bajorek, ran a similar offense whenever he was a player, and he thought we had the key players to run this offense very well,” Dawkins said. “It didn’t take very long for us to pick it up.”
“I had a week to learn quarterback from the time we played Heritage Hills to Vincennes,” Mann said. “It was a struggle at the start, but by the end of the week, it just came down to making the right read, and it feels a lot more natural than the spread offense for us.”
Both of them also described how the triple option suits the other person.
“It gives Lance the opportunity to run downhill hard,” Mann said. “He’s always done that since middle school and everything. He just takes off once he has the ball, and I wouldn’t like to be the person on the other side trying to stop him.
“I think Blake’s very versatile down the field,” Dawkins added. “He’s definitely a downhill runner, like in the Harrison game, you saw him popping his helmet off. He’s not afraid to hit somebody, but also he’s very quick laterally and can make moves on kids, but even without Blake or I, the o-line we have is just so good that I think you can put anyone in and we’d have a lot of production.”
Lewis said this offense starts with the fullback. It requires a good, hard and tough runner — all of which Dawkins is, and also praised the job that Mann has done reading the option, adding that his quarterback is a “slippery fellow to try and tackle.” Opposing defenses can stop a certain play, but Mann has enough athletic ability to still make those defenders miss.
He noted that many defenses that play option teams run the zone defense instead of a man-to-man defense with their secondary. Lewis added opposing defenses must be gap sound and account for a few things that a certain number of defenders are designated to.
The second-year coach of the Wildcats told the Herald Monday that their defense might not be able to key in on one person Friday against Castle’s multi-back formation, but opposing defenders, even those with a size advantage, find themselves in the same spot of trouble when they play Jasper.
“Defenses can’t key in on either one of them,” Lewis said. “If they key in on Lance, then Blake’s going to pull the ball; and if they’re keying on Blake, then obviously Lance is our first option and a lot of what we do.
“They both complement each other in this offense,” he continued. “It’s an offense that is suited to their skill set, and in my opinion, it’s an offense that is suited to our football program as a whole. It gives us opportunity, in my opinion, to be successful against SIAC competition.”
Jasper will have to take care of its own business, as well as hope for Evansville Central to lose to have a chance to tie or win the Southern Indiana Athletic Conference. Three games are left, and the Knights will play the Bears Oct. 9 at home. Central is 6-0, Jasper 5-1 and Castle 4-1.
Castle has won four games in a row and has allowed 17 points combined in those four games. The Knights boast a stingy defense that has given up an average of 6.2 points per game heading into Friday.
Dawkins said the Wildcats want to win the SIAC, but are more focused on winning each game that they play, and the Knights are the first of their final three opponents.
They both agreed they’ll have to take care of the football on Friday to be successful against that Castle defense, and Dawkins doesn’t want one defender alone tackling him to the ground in Newburgh on Friday.
“I try to always make sure there’s always four or five guys on top of me before I go down,” Dawkins said. “(I) fight for as many inches as I can.”
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