Wishbone attack makes a comeback

Staff photo by Eric Lusk

Full-house backfield: the Sedona Wishbone will rely heavily ob tommy Wyatt (10), Mark Gaulden (36), QB Jeff Miner (6) and Adam Senger (22). the Scorpions won their first game using the 'Bone' last week against Williams. Senger scored fpur touchdowns.

This would create a better angle for the outside backs to reach the corners, he surmised. Plus he as the QB could see them better in his periphery and hit them with a pitch easier.

By 1966, Bellard found himself as the offensive coordinator at the University of Texas, and his little backyard football idea began to revolutionize the college game.

The Wishbone became a hit with Darrell Royal’s Longhorns in 1968 and by the early 1970s, other powerhouse programs like the Oklahoma Sooners and Alabama Crimson Tide had picked it up. Bellard eventually brought it to Texas A&M, where he became head coach in the early 1970s.

"With the Wishbone and all that, he was on the cutting edge," former Texas A&M coach R.C. Slocum once said of Bellard. "I can remember in the spring when he first came (to A&M), we had hundreds of high school coaches and college coaches from around the country trying to learn the Wishbone.

"He knew more about it than anybody."

One of the first high school coaches to actually put the ‘Bone on the field was a young man named Jim Cromartie, who directed the Altus High Bulldogs from Altus, Okla. It was 1971, and Altus had lost a couple of big ball games early in the year.

Cromartie announced to his assistants that the Bulldogs were scrapping its usual offense in favor of Bellard’s new innovation.

"We never lost another game and we won the state championship," Cromartie said. "We were one of the few high school teams that were running the Wishbone. People were lining up in it, and they were running sweeps out of it, but they were afraid to pitch it.

"We averaged more than 40 points a game that year. We had a program that was pretty neat, and our kids believed in it."

Flash forward to early September 2003. Cromartie, now in his fourth year as Sedona Red Rock’s head coach, is pondering how to better utilize a full house of talented skill players after an overtime loss to Valley Christian.

He gets an idea and smiles. Why not bring back the ‘Bone?

Cromartie drops the bomb on his assistants during a Tuesday coaches meeting. By Friday night, the Scorpions have enough of the offense in place to engineer a satisfying 28-14 win over Williams. A new energy takes hold of a young team that is supposed to be in a rebuilding mode.

"Coach really wants to take it to teams this year," says Sedona quarterback Jeff Miner. "If we run it right, we’ll have a good time with it."

* * *

The wishbone is designed to use power, execution and deception to keep opposing defenses off-balance. A myriad of plays can be run out of a couple basic formations.

The most common is the one Bellard came up with – two halfbacks and a fullback lined up in a V behind the quarterback. On the line, tight ends flank the center, two guards and two tackles.

The defense can’t tell until the play begins which direction things are going – and which back will get the ball.

If the quarterback reads light pressure up the middle, he’ll stick the ball in the fullback’s gut. If he sees defenders stacking the middle, he’ll fake the handoff and head to the outside, where now he has the option to run himself or pitch to a halfback.

Teams that over-pursue the run can be vulnerable to big pass plays, draw plays, delayed screens or reverses.

"If you’re executing it, you force every defensive scheme that they come up against you with to be committed to stopping your four options before the ball is even snapped," Cromartie said. "You take away a little bit of their surprise element. It limits what they can do."

The biggest key is the execution. The linemen have to know their assignments. The quarterback has to know how to read the opposition and perform the slight-of-hand moves with the ball. The running backs have to sell fakes and be in the right place for pitches and handoffs.

"There is no magic just because you line up in it," Cromartie said. "But if you execute you don’t have to have the greatest athletes."

Though the Wishbone has come to be known as a run-happy offense, some of Cromartie’s best receivers over the years have thrived in this system. Cromartie had one receiver catch 44 passes in a season out of the ‘Bone – 21 went for touchdowns.

Sedona worked on a lot of passing plays during practices this week.

"You have the perception that it’s not a good throwing offense, but you have to throw," Cromartie said. "The ‘Bone can provide pretty good receiver-coverage ratio. If they are going to try and stop the run, they are going to give you one-on-one coverage, and it doesn’t get any better than that.

"It’s not the greatest third-and-long-yardage offense, but there are no rules that say you can’t get in the gun on third-and-long."

* * *

Cromartie decided to take the Wishbone plunge with his Sedona group after evaluating game one, a 21-14 loss to Valley Christian on Sept. 5.

Cromartie knew he had a smart quarterback with a good arm in Miner, a bruising fullback in Mark Gaulden, a speedy running back in Adam Senger, a talented receiver in Jeremy Woodson and a rising star in "utility man" Tommy Wyatt.

In the opener, Gaulden got 20 carries, and Senger 17, but neither really broke one long. How could the Scorpions free these two backs for bigger yardage, get Wyatt and

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