Watching Shelley play offense is like rewinding some 60 years. The Russets operate like Lyndon B. Johnson is still president, lining up with the quarterback under center, two tight ends flanking the offensive line and a fullback sandwiched between the quarterback and running back.
It runs counter to everything we know about offense in 2021. No spread. Not even multiple receivers on the outside. Shelley quarterback Brecker Williams threw all of 13 passes Friday night against Skyline. Instead, the Russets ran, ran and ran some more. They forced the Grizzlies’ defense to stay on the field, grinding out chunks of two yards here, three yards there.
The problem for the Russets is that they couldn’t get the two yards they really needed.
With about four minutes to play, Shelley running back Ryker Clinger plunged into the end zone from four yards out, trimming Skyline’s lead to 14-12. The Russets needed two more. So on the next play, Williams snapped the ball and pitched it back to Kaden Kidman, who dropped back for his own pass. He spotted tight end Hadley Carpenter in the end zone. The pass just sailed a tad high.
“We almost had it, man,” Shelley coach Josh Wells said.
So if you left Skyline’s 14-12 win over Shelley wondering why the game went by so quickly, thank the Russets’ traditional offense. There might not be another team in the state, at least at the 4A level, that plays like them. In an era where most teams prefer to spread things out and throw the ball, Shelley bunches up and dares you to get off the field on third down.
But in all likelihood, Skyline and Shelley are both headed to the playoffs, so maybe Wells is onto something. With the win, Skyline shared the 4A District 6 conference title with Blackfoot, which topped Bonneville Friday night. But all four teams maintain strong rankings in MaxPreps, which is used for seeding purposes, so all four will likely punch their tickets to the playoffs.
“It’s a big deal,” Skyline linebacker Chandler Robinson said. “It’s senior night for us, my last time playing at Ravsten. So it’s kind of a tender night. But it feels good to get my last win here, and it’ll be good to get in the playoffs and see what we’ve got.”
For Skyline, it’s a different way to get into the postseason. Last year, the Grizzlies used a lethal offensive attack to roll through the regular-season, into the playoffs and all the way to a state title. They lost one game all season. They weren’t unbeatable, but they sure came close.
This season, it became clear fairly quickly that Skyline wouldn’t be the same team. The Grizzlies dropped three of their first four games. Junior quarterback Lachlan Haacke struggled at times to acclimate to life at the varsity level. Skyline’s sturdy defense held things down, but the offense lagged behind.
Which is what makes the way the Grizzlies completed the regular season so remarkable. They won four of their final five games, their only loss a setback to Idaho Falls in the Emotion Bowl. Until Friday, Skyline had scored 30-plus points in all those contests.
The only thing that slowed that train down was an offense more suited for a time when gas went for 30 cents a gallon. The Russets put such an emphasis on chewing clock that the Grizzlies only got so many chances on offense, but the Grizzlies got 17 carries for 105 yards from Abrahn Silverio, plus two touchdown receptions from Caden Taggart, so the hosts capitalized.
Shelley’s problem was that its system only started working in the second half. In the first, the Russets totaled just 16 yards. They ran for an average of 1.2 yards per carry. Absent a 16-yard scramble from Breckers, Shelley’s longest first-half play was a three-yard rush from Caden Johnson.
Eventually, though, the Russets’ primitive offense kicked into gear. Williams broke a 28-yard run. He connected with Kidman for a 13-yard pass play that caught Skyline by surprise. Late in the third frame, Williams handed the ball off to Clinger, who fought his way into the end zone from a whopping three yards out.
Shelley still trailed, 14-6, but it represented life for the visitors.
“Skyline has a great program. Scott Berger and them do a phenomenal job,” Wells said. “In the first half, I think we were a little nervous about that. In the second half, we realized we could compete. We can play with these guys. So it was execution.”
In truth, that speaks to the way Shelley has turned things around this season. Two years ago, in Wells’ first year at the helm, the Russets went winless. Last year, they won three games. They may run an antiquated offense, sure, but the confidence — the belief that Shelley can be a conference contender — is what makes the whole thing work.
Now, the Russets are in the playoffs, as are the Grizzlies. The only question will be where they fit into the bracket.
It’s probably safe to say, though, that no team in there will play like Shelley.
“It’s super old school,” Robinson said. “It’s a pile of you-know-what every play.”
SKYLINE 14, SHELLEY 12
Shelley 0 0 6 6 — 12
Skyline 7 7 0 0 — 14
Skyline — Taggart 10 pass from Haacke (PAT good), 3:52
Skyline — Taggart 5 pass from Haacke (PAT good), 0:29
Shelley — Clinger 3 rush (PAT no good), 4:08
Shelley — Clinger 4 rush (2-pt no good), 4:26
RUSHING — Shelley: Clinger 16-35, Williams 8-66, Kidman 6-19, Johnson 2-8. Skyline: Silverio 17-105, Taggart 5-20, Haacke 4-14, Galbreaith 3-5.
PASSING — Shelley: Williams 8-13-0 57. Skyline: Haacke 10-15-2 140.
RECEIVING — Shelley: Clinger 2-1, Kidman 4-33, Johnson 1-7, Carpenter 1-16. Skyline: Taggart 3-53, Sadiq 2-44, Nottestad 2-6, Silverio 2-28, Galbreaith 1-7.