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Foothill High running with a purpose this season

Football teams that feature a spread offense sometimes struggle to establish a consistent running game, and that certainly has been the case for Foothill High in recent years.

This season has been a little different.

The Falcons won’t be mistaken for ground-and-pound teams such as Palo Verde or Arbor View any time soon, but an improved running game is a reason Foothill is riding a two-game winning streak into its matchup at Basic at 7 p.m. Friday.

“Being able to run the ball is a huge part of the offense this year,” senior running back/linebacker Bobby Merritt said. “In past years, we haven’t been able to do it. It’s usually been stopped, and we had to convert to our screen game. Now that we have the ability to run and pass, our screen game’s open.”

Foothill (3-3, 1-0 Southeast League) averaged just 2.6 yards per carry last season, forcing the Falcons to lean on the pass.

This season, Foothill has averaged 5.1 yards per rush attempt. The Falcons have rushed for 1,069 yards this season after failing to reach 1,000 yards in 10 games in either of the past two seasons. Foothill rushed for 602 yards last year.

“I think we definitely run the ball a little bit more this year, which has been good for us,” coach Marty Redmond said. “We tried to run it more last year; we just weren’t able to. So we’re happy we’ve been able to run the ball a little bit more than we have in the past.”

While the running game has been improved, the Falcons still don’t have that “star” back. Junior Justice Jackson leads the team with 400 yards and six touchdowns. Merritt has added 245 yards and three touchdowns, and quarterback Devon Mueller has rushed for 165 yards.

But it’s not just the guys in the backfield who have helped Foothill run the ball more effectively this season.

“Our (offensive) line has improved,” Redmond said. “They keep getting better and better. We have some tough kids up front, and they’ve been doing a good job for us all year.”

Basic (4-3, 1-1) is another spread offense team that has more rushing yards than passing yards. And like Foothill, the Wolves don’t rely on a single back to carry the rushing load.

Quarterback Aeneas McAllister leads Basic’s rushing attack with 280 yards and seven touchdowns. Sean White has added 227 yards and six touchdowns on just 45 carries.

“We feel like we’ve got to stop the run,” Redmond said. “Their run game has gotten better and better. They have a few different guys run the ball, so we’ve just really got to work on stopping the run. If we can do that and force them to throw the ball more than they want to, I think we’ll be in good shape.”

McAllister rushed for 126 yards and three touchdowns last week in a 42-34 win over Eldorado.

“We have to stop it before it starts,” Merritt said of the Basic running game. “We have to stop the (quarterback) runs, don’t let him scramble.”

Foothill also has improved defensively. The Falcons have had trouble stopping anyone the past two seasons, allowing an average of 41.2 points in 2012 and 33.7 last season. That statistics has dwindled to 26.5 this season.

“They’re getting better at tackling and understanding their roles on defense a little bit better,” Redmond said. “We have been improving on defense, and we’re pretty happy with how they’ve played the last couple weeks.”

Contact prep sports editor Damon Seiters at dseiters@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-4587. Follow him on Twitter: @DamonSeiters.

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