2015-10-23 / Sports

TA’s 1-2 Punch

Mix of run and pass key to Trojans’ success
By PAT McDONALD Sports Editor

Senior RB Greg Ruff Senior RB Greg Ruff Alright guys, should we stack the box to stop the run?” “No, we have to drop more guys into coverage to stop the pass!”

That is a discussion pretty much any coaching staff has to have when the Thornton Academy Golden Trojans are coming up on their schedule.

Thornton Academy (6-1) has arguably the deadliest one-two punch in the state – with quarterback Austin McCrum leading the air attack and running back Greg Ruff pounding teams into submission on the ground.

Pounding the rock

When it comes to the ground game, Ruff has become one of the state’s best running backs despite never playing the position before this season.

“It’s fun,” said Ruff on getting a chance to run the ball.

And why wouldn’t it be fun for Ruff, who has put together several big games, including a four-touchdown performance last week in a 42-14 win over South Portland.

Senior QB Austin McCrum Senior QB Austin McCrum “I mean we could just run the ball the whole game,” said McCrum, who knows the Trojans’ rushing attack helps him in the passing game. “Greg pounds the rock and it’s just nice to have that diversity and that ability to be able to do both and I think that makes us hard to defend.”

Ruff doesn’t have to handle the entire workload in the running game as junior Michael Laverriere has also proven to be dangerous with the ball in his hands.

“Our running game is great because we have Michael and Greg. We can swap them in and out and there is no difference,” said wide receiver Ben Lambert.

For the two running backs, it’s been fun to carry the load for the Trojans – especially since they are close on and off the field.

“Greg’s a great friend of mine and we work as a one-two punch. It’s great because I can get a break, he can get a break and it’s just non-stop,” said Laverriere.

Both Ruff and Laverriere give a ton of credit to the Trojans’ offensive line.

“It’s great, just the holes open up, you see the lanes and you have plenty of room to run. Those guys do work every game,” said Ruff.

The offensive line was a slight question mark for the defending state champions after three starters were lost to graduation – but that question was quickly answered.

“Early on, they always thought it was going to be an under-the-radar type line, but they have worked hard, they know their assignments and they are just going to play hard for us, and we will play hard for them,” said Laverriere.

For tight end Rome Pura, it’s exciting to know that if the linemen do their job, the running backs will take care of the rest.

“We know that if we just get one block, that can spring them and they take it the rest of the way,” said Pura, who is also key in the passing attack.

Airing it out

Now, even though most opponents would love to just focus on the running game, the Trojans are not afraid to air it out – and that’s because of McCrum’s ability to read defenses and throw the ball.

“Austin, you can’t get any better than Austin,” said Laverriere. “He’s going to put the ball where you want it and make something happen and that just opens everything up for us.”

For receivers like Lambert and Corey Hart, it’s nice to know your quarterback is going to give you an opportunity to make plays.

“We worked all summer working routes, so he knows where we are going to be and we’ll go get it, me and Benny,” said Hart.

“It’s great because he hits us on the run every single time … he doesn’t miss us very often,” said Lambert.

Pura echoed those sentiments.

“I just run around and he just puts it right there,” said Pura.

The standout quarterback, who will head to Division I Lafayette College next fall, gives a ton of credit to his weapons on the outside.

“They spoil me, they make me look good … just throw it in the air and they will go get it. They are pretty reliable guys,” said McCrum.

Hart was quick to talk about his receiving counterpart.

“Ben’s a very good receiver and he has the ability to run the ball and catch the ball, so it makes him more of a threat on offense. They have to lock on to both of us and try to stop the deep ball,” said Hart.

Lambert also talked about the problems the wide receiver duo creates for defenses.

“They are going to have to try and match up with us somehow,” said Lambert.

The skill players on the outside are important, but McCrum also knows it all starts up front.

“The guys up front don’t get enough credit, but I think they just grind and make everything work,” said McCrum. “They make our offense click. Without them, we couldn’t do much. They give me a lot of time and open up some big holes.”

Just like McCrum gave credit to Ruff and the rushing attack, the senior running back knows that the passing attack puts the opposing defense in a quandary.

“The linebackers and the corners all back up because they don’t want to see him throw it, so it helps me because they are already five yards off the ball when I’m running, so I already get a good head start on them. It helps him too when I run because they creep up on me and he gets a good lane to throw,” said Ruff.

McCrum believes all of the Trojans’ hard work in the offseason has paid off.

“I think the offense developed early with a lot of returning players. We put in a lot of work in the summer with a lot of seven-on-sevens, spring camp and everything like that. We have come a long way and we are starting to click on all cylinders,” said McCrum.

Senior leadership

Thornton Academy lost an incredible group of senior’s from last year’s state championship team, but players like McCrum, Ruff, Lambert and Hart have filled the leadership void.

“It’s great. They are really helping me and showing me the ropes,” said Pura, who is a junior.

The 2015 version of Thornton Academy football is a close group – and that all starts with the senior class, according to Laverriere.

“The seniors are great,” said Laverriere. “We’ve been playing football with these guys since I was in second grade. These guys are my best friends and I hang out with them everyday. You really want to work hard and do it for them.”

Staying focused

Even though a return trip to the state championship game and a chance to defend their Class A title is on their minds, the Trojans are also staying focused on the task on hand.

“Obviously, we want to go all the way, but we just have to take it one game at a time. In the playoffs, you have to grind every week and we can’t look too far ahead,” said Ruff.

Next up for the Trojans is a chance to clinch the top seed in the Class A South playoffs with a win over visiting Bonny Eagle on Saturday.

“Getting homefield advantage all through the playoffs is big,” said Hart. “It’s just huge in playoff football, so that’s what we are trying to do – and get back to the state championship game.”

Sports Editor Pat McDonald can be reached at pmcdonald@journaltribune.com or at 282- 1535 ext. 322. Follow the Journal Tribune Sports Department on Twitter @JournalTsports.

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