By Kenton Brooks
Phoenix Sports Writer
Going into a game, Hilldale’s first option is to run with the ball.
The Hornets have been impressively effective this season in doing that, highlighted by the 407 rushing yards, including 241 by senior running back Jamaul Cullom, in the victory against Lincoln Christian two weeks ago.
But plans do change.
With Locust Grove lining up to stop the Hornets this past Friday, coach Chad Kirkhart and his staff went to its second option and that was the passing attack. Junior quarterback Chandler Puckett threw for a season-high 159 yards and five touchdowns in the 49-7 win against the Pirates.
Ideally, Kirkhart would like for his team to be able to run and pass equally. This time, the pass was more effective than the run for the Hornets.
“We always want to establish the run, whether we’re in the I formation or spreading it out,” he said. “It’s what we look to do first. When you can run, it opens up the passing game. When you can pass a little bit, it opens up the running game. You’ve got to be able to do both.”
The Hornets take a lot of pride in not being one-dimensional.
“When you’ve got to defend a team that runs it well and throws it effectively, it puts pressure on the defense,” Kirkhart said. “If a team can’t throw it, that makes for a long night. The other team loads up their defense to stop the run.”
Apparently, that was Locust Grove’s intention. After watching the Lincoln Christian tape, former Muskogee coach Matt Hennesy said he and his Pirates’ staff concentrated on stopping the Hornets on the ground.
But the Hornets started their scoring with Puckett firing a 20-yard and a 14-yard TD pass to Josh Giem.
“Chandler made good decisions and hit the open receiver basically every time,” Kirkhart said. “I think he only forced one ball in there. For the rest of the night, he threw it well and was pretty much on the money with his throws. He also made good reads.
“Locust Grove was also in man-to-man coverage. We were able get some guys open and we made some plays in the game.”
The running game, though, wasn’t abandoned. The Hornets ran for 213 yards as a team and Puckett even had an 18-yard TD run that increased the lead to 42-0 with 9:12 left in the third quarter.
Still, Kirkhart looks for the double effectiveness of his team’s offense to continue Thursday night when the Hornets travel to Park Hill to face Keys in a District 3A-7 game. While Hilldale brings a 6-1 overall record and 3-0 district mark into the game, the Cougars try to stay playoff contention as they are 3-3 and 2-1.
“You don’t want a defense to stop just the run,” he said. “You want to make them defend the whole field. If you’re one-dimensional, a good team can take away what you do. A team’s got to be able to do both.”