Monday, November 19, 2007


Bay Area Confidential: Piedmont's A-11 is A-OK
There's more to Highlanders than revolutionary offense and more to playoff schedule than places and time.
By Mitch Stephens

Like most revolutions, even on a high school football field, this one met much resistance.

Piedmont coaches Steve Humphries and Kurt Bryan had masterminded a revolutionary offense last spring, the A-11, where all 11 players were eligible for passes.

They dissected the rule book, checked and double checked with the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) and the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) and spent gobs of cell phone minutes with referee organizations to make sure their six-receiver, three-linemen sets were clean, kosher and legal.

Once that got cleared, selling and implementing it to their players during spring break was another major obstacle.

"It looked pretty crazy but we were pretty open," starting quarterback Jeremy George said. "It was new and exciting and innovative. I think my parents were a little concerned who was going to protect me. I don't think the running backs were crazy about it. The receivers were really excited though."

Everyone was excited when the Highlanders dropped their first two games and scored just nine points in the process.

Excited in the bad sense, however.

Head coach Bryan, whose been in coaching since 1987 including stops at Menlo College and St. Mary's College, said he's never received so much hate mail or criticism.

"It was pretty bad," he said. "The worst I've ever received. But most of it was anonymous. It was kind of expected since we made such drastic switches and lost games."

Said George: "I think everyone was a little worried."

But Bryan, Humphries and staff reminded their players of a saying they'd repeated many times over the previous season, a far reaching credo that expanded far beyond the ultra spread offense.

"Tough times don't last but tough people do."

Trite maybe.

Corny perhaps.

But like corn syrup it stuck. And so did the offense.

The coaches said they never lost faith because despite the lack of production early, they still saw shimmering potential.

"We saw in game film we were one or two blown assignments away from major big plays," Humphries said. "If we fixed our mistakes, the entire thing would open right up."

They were right.

Behind the coach's faith, the players' execution and the innovative offense, the Highlanders rattled off seven straight wins before a 38-15 loss last week to defending North Coast Section Class A champion St. Patrick/St. Vincent-Vallejo.

The game decided the Bay Shore Athletic League championship.

Despite the defeat, Piedmont (7-3) received a NCS 2A East Bay at-large berth and tonight travels to top-seed Los Lomas-Walnut Creek (10-0) with a chance to create another revolution of sorts.

Humphries said he devised the offense just for this reason - so his undersized squad from a small-enrollment school could compete against bigger and larger-enrollment schools.

Of the 19 2A East Bay football schools, Piedmont ranks 18th with 941 students. Last Lomas ranks first with 1,569. The enrollment disparity, according to Humphries, is part of the reason the Highlanders haven't won a playoff game since 2000, losing five first-round games since then.

The A-11 features a center, a tight end on each side and three wide receivers to the right and left, respectively, with two quarterbacks in shotgun formation. With no one under center, the offense meets the criteria for a scrimmage kick formation.

Thus any player with eligible numbers (1-49 or 89-99) is eligible to catch a pass. See A-11 for more detail.

"We had to figure out a way to compete against bigger schools," Humphries said. "Year in, year out we are getting beat up in the playoffs by bigger and more physical teams. This allows us to utilize our speed, quickness and smarts."

George definitely utilizes all the above.

The 5-foot-9, 140-pound junior combines great feet (he's been a starter on the soccer team since he was a freshman), toughness and strong arm with a 3.85 grade point average to keep the Highlanders moving.

He's completed 120 of 205 for 1,483 yards and 12 touchdowns. He's also the team's leading rusher with 332 yards on 77 attempts, which includes only 12 sacks.

George has spread the ball all around as six receivers have at least 12 catches, led by Joey Andrada (31), Alexander Menke (26) and Kyle Bonachum (21).

"After our two losses, we really pulled together and worked even harder on the offense," George said. "It's not nearly as crazy as it seems."

The coaches agree and actually said once learned it's not any more complex than the wishbone, veer or conventional spread.

"We just call it the super spread," Humphries said.

The players aren't the only ones buying in, Bryan said.

He's received calls from at least 50 college coaches and one un-named NFL head coach.

"He's in the NFC," Humphries said. "That's all I can tell you."

Other advantages to the offense are that it's difficult to prepare for, team fitness and a constant ray of hope.

"We feel like no deficit is insurmountable," Bryan said.

Said Humphries: "Plus it just promotes innovation and excitement. When executed just right it's a thing of beauty."

The Highlanders will need a lot of beauty tonight to beat the juggernaut Knights, who average 370 yards and 41 points per game. Las Lomas features one of the East Bay's premier runners, Danny Ward (1,262 yards, 17 touchdowns) and dynamics receivers in Diante Jackson.

With all the attention paid to the A-11, Piedmont's strength is probably on defense, which gives up just 14 points a game and is led by 5-10, 180-pound linebacker Keith Reid (62 tackles) and 6-foot, 180-pound back Rory Bonnin (three interceptions).

No matter what happens tonight, Bryan said 2007 season has been an overwhelming success.

He credits other varsity staffers Pete Schneider (quarterbacks), Mario Thornton (receivers), Anthony Freeman (running backs/tight ends) and Kevin Anderson II (defensive coordinator) as equal parts.

"I'm proud of the team and staff to sticking to their guns and not wavering during really difficult times," he said. "The players really persevered and succeeded and that's something they can take with them always."

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Highlanders Make It Exciting vs. Las Lomas

Loss to Las Lomas in NCS playoffs caps exciting season

By B. Durham

Piedmont gave its fans and the thousands on hand from Las Lomas all the excitement they could handle. In a 56-21 loss last Friday night in the first round of the NCS playoffs, the Highlanders appeared to be having lots of fun with their A-11 offense – slicing through the Las Lomas offense for short passes and long gains after the catches.

The final score was indicative of the speed and depth of the Knights, yet for the first half those plucky Highlanders danced and darted all over the field and were trailing by only one touchdown, 21-14.

Piedmont had to be considered at least a 21-point underdog to Las Lomas on Friday night, Seeded No. 1 in the North Coast Section playoffs, the Knights entered the game in their hometown in front of a roiling hometown crowd with a 10-0 record.
Piedmont, in contrast, finished its regular season 5-5 and lost to St. Patrick, also 10-0, for the league championship one week earlier, 35-15.

Las Lomas showed its stuff immediately, taking a 7-0 lead in less than two minutes. It added a second touchdown with 6:38 left n the first quarter, and Highlander fans were thinking, "Uh oh."

But in the year of the A-11 offense came a new spirit from a group of guys who never gave up. Barely two minutes after the Knights took a 14-0 lead, Piedmont responded with the most dramatic touchdown of the game. On third down with 4 yards for a first down at their own 42 yard line, Quarterback Jeremy George lofted a short pass top Joey Holland, who cut inside, then outside, streaking down the right sideline for a 58-yard touchdown. Jordan Remer's first of three PAT kicks made it a 14-7 game.

Before the end of the quarter, Kyle Nelson recovered a Las Lomas fumble, and the combination of passes to Kyle Bonacum and the running and heady play of George, brought Piedmont to the 3-yard line early in the 2nd quarter. With the tying score in sight, the Highlanders tried a fake field goal, and kicker Remer was brought down _ yard shy of the goal line.
A second scoring attempt failed on a 4th and 1 at the Las Lomas 19 yard line when an pass for a first down at the 11 was dropped.

Piedmont's defense took over, putting big pressure on the Las Lomas quarterback Kyle Bonacum saved a touchdown with an open field tackle, but the Knights' running game was too much for Piedmont. With 3:24 left in the half, they scored to take a 21-7 lead.

Matt Fineman's fumble recovery put Piedmont on track for another rally late in the first half. On passes to Andrada and George's scrambling runs, the Highlanders got down to 20, where George connected with Devin Brown in the end zone for a touchdown pass.
Walking off the field at halftime, Piedmont players and coaches had to feel good about the score, 21-14. Appropriately, Las Lomas fns were a bit quiet, surprised at how close that game had become. "We were thrilled at halftime," exuded coach Kurt Bryan. "We had three legitimate dropped TD passes in the first half., and we were still that close."

But that changed after intermission, as Las Lomas scored for a 28-14 lead with 3:30 left in the third quarter. Piedmont's defense gave the Knights a battle, and kept them from further scoring for six more minutes. More than three minutes into the final quarter, Piedmont was trailing 28-14, a remarkably close game give the odds in favor of Las Lomas. "When I looked up at the scoreboard in the fourth quarter and I saw the score 28-14, I knew we had done something right," said coach Kurt Bryan.

Las Lomas moved ahead 35-14 on a touchdown with 8:31 left, but 1 minute later, George connected to Andrada for a 40 yard pass. Two plays later George threw a 25-yard TD pass to Bonacum to cap a 4-play, 65-yard drive.

Suddenly Piedmont was still in the game, down 35-21.

"Our boys played great," said a nearly hoarse Bryan. "I can't tell you how proud I was to see them refuse to give up.":
The Highlanders finally wore down and the Knights revved up, scoring three touchdowns in the final five minutes for a runaway score, 56-21.

George had another big game, passing for 244 yards and three touchdowns, and running for 25 more yards. Andrada led Piedmont's fleet of 12 receivers (only with an A-11 offense will you see that) with 73 yards on four receptions. Holland had 71 yards on only two catches, and Bonacum totaled 59 yards on four reception.

Scott Bradsby was the man on defense, coming up with 13 tackles on a night when missed tackles were the norm.
Getting to the NCS playoffs was an early-season dream by the Piedmont coaches. Playing Las Lomas dead even for three quarters of a game was even better.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

St. Pat's Runs To Another BSAL Title

After a close first half, St. Patrick-St. Vincent rushes over Piedmont

By Jimmy Durkin

VALLEJO — St. Patrick-St. Vincent High's running game was overpowering in the second half Friday night, producing four touchdowns in a 38-15 victory over Piedmont for the Bruins' fourth straight Bay Shore Athletic League title.

Mike Meekins finished with 175 yards and a touchdown, Daniel Wyatt had 146 and three scores, while Robbie Souza had 138 yards and a TD to spark the victory.

Piedmont, which kept it close for a half, allowed two touchdowns in the first 61/2 minutes of the third quarter. Highlanders quarterback Jeremy George scored on a 1-yard run to make it 25-16 with 1:51 left in the third quarter, but fourth-quarter TDs by Wyatt and Souza put the game out of reach.

Piedmont (7-3, 5-1 BSAL) will apply for a North Coast Section 2-A East Bay at-large berth and figures to be a strong candidate. St. Patrick (10-0, 6-0) earns an automatic NCS berth and will attempt to defend its Class A title. "That was the best team we saw all year," Piedmont coach Kurt Bryan said.

St. Patrick got off to a quick start using its productive ground game, marching 85 yards on five plays. Daniel Wyatt had 45 yards over the final two plays, giving the Bruins a 7-0 lead two minutes into the game. St. Patrick got an interception from Michael Peralta on Piedmont's opening drive, but couldn't take advantage.

When the Highlanders got the ball back, they held the ball for 16 plays — twice converting on fourth down — but the drive stalled at the Bruins 48, and they were forced to punt.

Early in the second quarter, Piedmont's Bryce Chu recovered a fumble at the Highlanders' 44. A 30-yard pass from Jeremy George to Kyle Bonacum moved Piedmont to the Bruins 26. Another fourth-down conversion, this one a 22-yard from George to Joey Andrada, got Piedmont to the 2. Rory Bonnim then plowed in to cut the lead to 7-6 as a two-point pass conversion attempt failed.

On the first play of St. Patrick's ensuing drive, Piedmont's Russell Thompson recovered a fumble, and the Highlanders turned it into three points and a 9-7 lead on a 34-yard field goal by Jordan Remer with 5:47 left in the half.

St. Patrick's Mike Meekins nearly broke a big touchdown run, but was wrestled down at the 10 by Bonnim after a 75-yard gain. The Highlanders' defense eventually stopped the drive on nice fourth-down stand at the 6.

Late in the half, St. Patrick drove to the Piedmont 8, and Robert Rivers kicked a 24-yard field goal with three seconds left to give the hosts a 10-7 lead at the break.

Friday, November 09, 2007


Highlanders face also unbeaten St. Patrick-St. Vincent tonight
By Jimmy Durkin, STAFF WRITER
Article Last Updated: 11/09/2007 02:35:25 AM PST

PIEDMONT - There was plenty of skepticism from outsiders when word started circulating about the new A-11 offense the Piedmont High football team had in the works for this season.

There might even have been some doubters within the program, but junior quarterback Jeremy George wasn't one of them. "I was pretty optimistic," said George, who returns from a minor hip flexor injury to lead the Highlanders (7-2, 5-0 Bay Shore Athletic League) into today's 7:30 p.m. contest at St.Patrick-St. Vincent (9-0, 5-0) with the league title on the line.

"I felt we did have a slight disadvantage against other teams," George said. "So when it was introduced, I thought, 'Why not?'"

A primary reason the A-11 was conceived was to combat the disadvantages that exist at a smaller school, such as Piedmont, with an enrollment of 941. Among North Coast Section 2-A East Bay schools, that's the second-lowest enrollment, behind only Moreau Catholic (910). And the 2-A includes schools with enrollments up to 1,600.

By spreading the offense out with six receivers, two quarterbacks and three linemen, the A-11 offense allows smaller, quicker teams to compete with bigger, stronger opponents. "For the thousands of small schools like us nationwide that are forced to compete against much larger schools on a regular basis, it's the only way we can be competitive," coach Kurt Bryan said.

When it didn't start out as well as Piedmont would've liked - the Highlanders scored just nine points in their first two games, both losses - it would've been easy to lose faith. "After our first two games, some people thought we were crazy," Bryan said. "But the players and coaches kept believing in the A-11 and learning about it."

George has thrived since, leading the BSAL by passing for 1,234 yards and 12 touchdowns while completing 63 percent of his attempts. "It's completely evolved. We've changed so many plays (since the first two weeks)," George said. "I'm surrounded by athletes. I'm definitely glad to have six receivers, because I trust them all. And my linemen, there's only three of them, but they're quality."

With George out last week, fellow starting quarterback Ryan Lipkin - whom George calls his "partner in crime" - stepped in to the primary passing role and completed 15 of 26 passes for 231 yards and two TDs in a 21-14 win over John Swett.

As winners of seven straight, there's certainly a buzz as the Highlanders take on the defending NCS Class A champion Bruins and their 18-game winning streak. "It's going to be huge, and the players are so excited," Bryan said. "It's a great opportunity."

The matchup pits polar opposites. While the Highlanders don't have a back with more than 300 yards rushing, the Bruins have two of the top-five backs in the league in Daniel Wyatt and Robbie Souza, and nearly 90 percent of their offense has come on the ground.

"What's exciting is we're trying to figure out a way to stop their system, and they're doing the same thing," Bryan said. "To say that we have won seven games in a row and are playing for league title, we're surprised - but we deserve it."

Saturday, November 03, 2007


Highlanders hang on to top John Swett despite five turnovers
Article Launched: 11/03/2007 02:33:50 AM PDT

CROCKETT — Chris McHenry scored on a 1-yard plunge with 1:57 left in the third quarter, and the Piedmont High football team's staunch defense limited host John Swett to 45 second-half yards to preserve a hard-fought 21-14 Bay Shore Athletic League win.

Piedmont's Rory Bonnin carried tacklers for a first down with 45 seconds remaining to end the Indians' hope, as the Highlanders (7-2, 5-0 BSAL) overcame three lost fumbles, two interceptions and a late failed fake punt to win their seventh straight.

Mark Anderson-Williams' 95-yard kickoff return provided John Swett's only second-half score. The return followed a 25-yard touchdown pass from Piedmont's Ryan Lipkin to Alexander Menke. Lipkin completed 15 of 26 passes for 231 yards. For the Highlanders, the game was their last obstacle before meeting St. Patrick-St. Vincent (9-0, 5-0) next week in a battle of unbeaten league teams for the BSAL championship.

After a scoreless first quarter, the Indians (3-5, 2-3) drove 82 yards in eight plays to forge a 7-0 lead. Jordan Porter ran untouched 5 yards over left guard for the score. The key plays on the drive were a 30-yard sweep of right end by Mark Anderson-Williams and a third-down pass interference call.

Taking over with just 1:09 left in the half, Piedmont immediately scored on a 79-yard pass from Lipkin to Andrada. Andrada broke one tackle before racing down the right sideline. The Highlanders opened the game aggressively with an attempted hook-and-lateral play that went for only a 3-yard gain. Lipkin's initial pass to Bonacum was low, forcing Bonacum to a knee to make the catch.

Piedmont attempted to assert its strong line play on the ground before returning to the pass in the second quarter. Piedmont was limited to 11 rushing yards in the half.