Friday Night Heroes: O-Line leads the way for Carson
CHINA GROVE — Carson has topped 300 rushing yards six straight weeks — even against Concord.
Part of that is powerful senior halfbacks Brandon Sloop and Darren Isom. They have combined for 37 touchdowns and rank 1-2 in the Rowan County rushing stats.
Also part of Carson’s county-best 3,017 rushing yards are five guys whose names you probably don’t know — guards Tyler Mason and Ethan Collins, center Cody Brown and tackles Chris Martin and Joshua Hawk.
“Nine games into the season and we’ve already got two guys up around 1,200 yards apiece,” Carson coach Joe Pinyan said. “Those guys we’ve got with a ball under their arm are good, but they’re only going to be successful if those five guys in front of them are successful.”
There are times when quarterback Andy Lear and fullback Dylan Livengood also pile up yards for the Cougars. Carson (4-5, 3-3 SPC) had a season-high 413 rushing yards in Friday’s 49-10 romp against Northwest Cabarrus.
“Those offensive linemen don’t get to see their names in the newspaper and don’t get to jump around in the end zone much, but we lean on them a lot,” Pinyan said. “This is an offensive lineman’s time of year. Each week we’re going to lean on those guys a little more.”
The Cougars’ O-line is an interesting assortment of shapes and sizes. Mason, a track and field thrower, is massively muscled at 315 pounds. Brown, at roughly 285 — “I haven’t weighed lately” — also qualifies as a big guy. Collins, the only junior in the unit, and Martin fall into the lean-lineman category. Hawk is shorter than his comrades, but he’s thick and is one of the strongest guys on the team.
“Being physical, that’s always the biggest thing for us,” Hawk said.
Pinyan says Martin has been the steadiest. No bad games and a few exceptional ones.
“I grade the tackles myself,” Pinyan said. “Martin and Hawk are at my door every Monday morning wanting to know what their grades are. They’re conscientious about doing a good job.”
Carson runs 90 to 95 percent of the time and had zero passing yards against Northwest Cabarrus. That shows even when opponents know what’s coming, it’s a tough offense to stop. The Cougars can run each of their pet plays three or four different ways by changing formations or tweaking blocking assignments.
“Offensive linemen are usually the best students of the game, and these guys are like that,” Pinyan said. “We have rules for each of our blocking schemes and they apply those rules to whatever front they see. They understand there are times when they’re going to be able to double-team someone, but they also understand they have to take the proper angle when it’s just them one-on-one.”
Most Carson offensive gameplans are built around Brown and whether the Cougars believe he can handle the man lined up over him — or if he’s going to need help.
“There were some rocky times at the beginning of this season when we were still coming together,” Brown said. “But now we’ve got a pretty good offense.”
Carson is averaging 32.4 points a game. That’s taken pressure off a defense that has only three players back in the same position as the 2013 squad. The Cougars’ goal is simple. Run the ball, move the chains, eat the clock, let the defense rest.
Carson’s offense runs some triple-option, but the Cougars frequently rely on a mix of traps, counters and isos designed to get Sloop or Isom running downhill.
“Iso is my favorite call,” Collins said.
All five O-linemen had starts last season, but they had their trials and tribulations.
“Most of them lost a position or changed positions or were a spot player at some point,” Pinyan said. “They had something taken away from them and that made them hungrier.”
Hawk admits he was on the verge of packing it in early last season when he wasn’t on the field much, but he stuck with it. The Cougars have benefited.
There also have been challenges this season. The biggest was the devastating overtime loss to West Rowan in a game in which Carson outrushed the Falcons by 250 yards.
“That one was tough, but we picked ourselves back up,” Martin said. “We didn’t let that game slow us down. We’ve kept our intensity high. Now we’ve just got to keep pounding away.”
Pounding away is exactly what the Cougars do, and Pinyan is comfortable with that. This is the style of football he loves. Pinyan said there are a lot of “broken fingers, stomped-on toes and scraped legs” for the linemen, but they five guys up front also know they play a role in getting the ball to the end zone even if they don’t get credit for scoring the touchdown.
“Without us getting to the linebackers, they can’t get the touchdowns,” he said. “They need us.”