Phoebus coach Stan Sexton knew the number would be high. Significantly high. He never expected it to be astronomical.
Tony Pittman, the Phantoms' workhorse of a tailback, had 42 rushing attempts in last week's 24-20 win over Norcom in the Eastern Region Division 5 final. That's 10 more than Tyree Lee, last year's Group AAA Player of the Year, ever had. It's more than Shawne Alston, Elan Lewis and Antwoine Womack ever had.
In fact, as far as Sexton and longtime running backs coach James Holbert can recall, it's more than any running back in Phoebus history.
"It really did surprise me, because it didn't seem like it," Sexton said. "At one point, you're like, 'Man, did he just carry the ball every time on that drive?' And in the back of your mind, you're thinking, 'He must be in the upper 20s to 30 carries now. It never dawned on me he'd be in the 40s."
How much did Phoebus (11-2) rely on Pittman last week? Seventy-five percent of the Phantoms' plays from scrimmage (42 of 56) were runs by Pittman. He rushed for 252 yards. The rest of the team combined for 40 total yards.
Part of the reason was that Desmond Belfield, who began the season as the starter, was out with a bruised knee. Phoebus attempted just nine passes, only one of which was intended for playmaker Romond Deloatch.
Pittman, who has rushed for 714 yards on 131 carries the last four weeks, was up to the task. But Sexton knows he'll need more balance when the Phantoms go against North Stafford (10-2) in Saturday afternoon's Group AAA Division 5 semifinal at Darling Stadium.
"Belfield had a real good practice (Wednesday), so we're hoping to get back to the normalcy of our offense," Sexton said . "We'd like to get the young kid (freshman Antonio Biggs) some carries, maybe four or five. What I'd like to do is hopefully get Romond involved and some of the other guys to step up and make plays.
"They had some good catches (last week), and a couple were for first downs, but there was no YAC involved. But Romond gives us a chance for yards after catch. We're not going to come out throwing the ball 25 times, but we're going to try to balance the attack with a little more play action."
Like most opponents this time of the year, Phoebus and North Stafford know little about each other. Holbert and offensive coordinator Alonzo Coley met Wolverines coach Joe Mangano on Sunday to exchange tapes of their last two games. And both sides have been pouring over them since.
"Honestly, this is the first time I've gone against an Eastern Region team," said Mangano, in his fourth year at North Stafford after coaching four seasons at Gar-Field. "And I'll be very frank: After watching Phoebus on film compared to (others), the biggest thing that jumps out to me is coaching.
"They don't jump around in different formations. They have a philosophy and they stick with it. That's a sign of good coaching."
In North Stafford, Sexton sees almost a mirror image of his team.
"Watching them on tape, they really remind me a lot of us," he said. "There's nothing flashy about them. They're just hard-nosed football. They really play well as a team. Those kids, whatever their job is, that's what they do."
Group AAA Division 5 semifinal
WHO: North Stafford (10-2) vs. Phoebus (11-2).
WHEN: 1:30 p.m. Saturday. Gates open at noon.
WHERE: Darling Stadium, Hampton.
TICKETS: $10 adults; children under 6 free with adult.
ONLINE: For more on the North Stafford-Phoebus game, including Q&A's with coaches Stan Sexton and Joe Mangano, go to HRVarsity.com/insidethepdCopyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun