Palisade one of several Western Slope teams having success with option offense
The option offense was once one of the most commonly used schemes in football.
Today, the three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust approach seems to be antiquated with the popularity of the spread offense.
But on the Western Slope, there are a handful of teams not only running the triple-option and split-back veer, but doing it with a lot of success.
Palisade has won six Class 3A state championships since 1994 using some form of the option.
This season, the Bulldogs (5-1) are averaging 35 points a game.
“We have tough kids who like to run the ball and expect to run the ball,” Palisade offensive coordinator Matt Borgmann said. “I would rather fit in with the mentality than try to change it and tell them we are going to run five-wide and throw it all the time. They’d just look at me like I’m a weirdo.”
Palisade has a long history with the option.
Current Mesa State College coach Joe Ramunno took over as head coach at Palisade in 1988 and had two unsuccessful seasons running a pro-style offense. Ramunno switched to the triple-option in 1990 and four years later, won the first of five consecutive state titles.
“We tried to do some different things and couldn’t get any movement,” Ramunno said. “(The option) is a way to give yourself a chance no matter what kids walk through the door.”
When Ramunno departed for Mesa State after the 1998 season, current Montrose coach Todd Casebier took over with the Bulldogs. He implemented the split-back veer and won the state championship in 2003.
The split-back veer features two halfbacks, a tight end and two receivers.
Both Montrose and Palisade are still running the split-back veer, and Casebier’s veer at Montrose has led to four consecutive Southwestern Conference titles.
“It gives you a chance if you have tough backs and solid linemen,” Casebier said. “It can always allow you to be successful.”
Borgmann masterminds Palisade’s current version of the option. The adjustments for this season include the Bulldogs dropping into the shotgun to run their veer.
“We are still running the option, but doing it from four yards deeper,” Borgmann said. “It’s really just one more look to run the ball, but the scheme doesn’t change. We are still going off the same read.”
Sophomore quarterback Luke McLean, who has rushed for 455 yards and nine touchdowns, is the conductor of the Bulldogs’ offense.
McLean’s responsibility is to determine the read — usually a defensive lineman — the play designates, then decide whether to hand the ball off to the fullback or tailback, or keep it himself.
McLean has showcased good decision-making so far with tailbacks Ronald Kuntz and Caden Woods rushing for a combined 576 yards. Fullback Quinn Zamora has 285 yards and four touchdowns.
“Matt (Borgmann), Pat (Steele) and Landon (McKee) do a great job with the kids we have, and they’ve done what they can do to set us up for success,” Palisade head coach John Arledge said. “They know where we can be successful because we have usually have good linemen, a tough QB, and tough runners.”
Although Palisade’s option offense has been in place for years, Olathe is using the offense to gain yearly consistency.
The Pirates won the 2008 2A state championship using an I-formation offense with power running back David Rhodes. Once Rhodes graduated, the Pirates went to the flexbone triple-option.
The flexbone has two slot backs who position themselves off tackle and a fullback behind the quarterback.
Pirates coach Ryan Corn said the fullback is the key in their offense.
“You have to have a hard-nosed fullback who can pick up short yards,” Corn said. “You need the two slots to be players that can follow blocks and be disciplined doing it.”
Olathe is 3-2 this season with a 2-0 record in the Western Slope Conference behind fullback Kyle Piatt and quarterback Kiefer Wollert.
Olathe is establishing itself at 2A with the option, and Hotchkiss is using the triple-option to break through in 1A.
The Bulldogs have been to the postseason the past two seasons, and are currently ranked No. 5 by The Denver Post.
Hotchkiss is 5-1 and averaging more than 250 yards rushing every game.
The Bulldogs’ offensive personnel features a fullback and tailback lined up behind quarterback Ryan Spor.
Bulldogs coach Zach Lemon said Hotchkiss’s triple-option allows for plenty of opportunities.
“We get stopped quite a bit,” Lemon said. “But we know if we are patient, something will open up because there are so many aspects to stop.”
The amount of accountability by the defense on every play is what coaches like about the option. Teams can never focus on only one thing.
“No one defends it anymore. When they play us, they have to prepare for something new,” Borgmann said.
Montrose, Palisade, Olathe and Hotchkiss are proving the option is a successful formula to advancing to the playoffs. It’s also an offense that is weatherproof and gives teams a chance against any opponent.
“It’s not that I’m against trips, open, or no backs,” Arledge said. “But when those snow flurries start flying and you have some linemen that can put their hand in the snow and get off the ball, it’s something special.”