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Interhall Insider: Crowded backfield keeps offense fresh, defense guessing

Bill Brink | Friday, November 17, 2006

The paradigm was established long ago – one primary running back per backfield. Any more, and controversy will inevitably follow. That idea seems to have shifted.

Both men’s Interhall finalists – Morrissey and O’Neill – operate a rushing offense that utilizes two backs.

Manorite tailback Nick Bencomo presents enough challenges to defenses by himself. Bencomo is a dual threat in the Manorite rushing attack, combining strength between the tackles with speed when he breaks into the secondary.

“I don’t think I fit into the category of any one runner,” Bencomo said. “I just try to run hard every time I touch the ball.”

Just when the defense starts to stack the box, freshman Brian Pieh stretches the field with his speed and vision.

“I see myself as more of an open field back,” Pieh said. “I am not really a power runner, but if I need to I can run up the middle.”

Morrissey is not the only team that has developed a “thunder and lightening” backfield. O’Neill runs a similar system around halfback Braden Turner and fullback Mike Mattingly.

Turner is quick, agile and darts downfield through any hole he can find. But to convert in short-yardage situations, the Mob turns to Mattingly, who complements Turner’s quicker running with a downhill, bruising style. The perfect third-and-short back, Mattingly hits the hole quick and hard. But even with his size and strength, Mattingly is still elusive in the open field.

“I think I can bring both speed and power to the table,” Mattingly said. “From game to game I can vary my running style based on the defense we are playing.”

The decision to install a multiple-back offense was an easy one for both teams. Morrissey ran a similar offense last year based on the personnel it had at the time.

“The team decided to use a two-back system when it realized the amount of talent that was and continues to be at that position,” Bencomo said.

The addition of Pieh to the Manor helped cement the two-back system for Morrissey, which could now utilize the two different types of tailbacks effectively.

“We each offer different styles to the offense and the running game,” he said. “If you can keep a defense off balance with the running game, and then employ the type of passing game we have, it is difficult to stop.”

O’Neill felt that the contrasting styles of Turner and Mattingly would benefit the team.

“I think our captains just realized that Braden and I had complementary talents,” Mattingly said. “Because of this, it would be smart to use both of us as running backs.”

Since defenses prepare for what they think they will see from their opponent, adding another factor to the backfield doubles the possibilities defenses must worry about and keeps them from focusing on any one back. Both teams saw that using different looks and different options are important benefits of utilizing more than one back.

“I think that it stops defenses from keying on one player, which is very important in this league,” Mattingly said. “If a team places its emphasis on stopping one of us, the other is usually able to run very well.”

Such a successful running game also sets up the pass since defenders are quick to anticipate a run.

“With the confidence I have in our running game, you often see opponent’s defensive backs cheat on the run, leaving our very athletic receivers wide open,” Mob quarterback Chris Stroh said.

Rather than competitive, the backfield relationships are symbiotic. The backs realize that victory becomes more attainable when they work together and support each other. Morrissey’s backs generally receive equal carries in order to keep defenses off guard and a fresh set of legs on the field at all times.

“We have had no conflicts this year whatsoever,” Pieh said. “The older guys have helped me develop more as a runner.”

Even though Turner is the Mob’s running back and Mattingly the fullback, they receive a fairly equal number of touches.

“We feed off each other and enjoy each other’s successes,” Mattingly said. “Nonetheless, it certainly does fuel you to know that there is another back who can push you to work harder.”