When leaves fly and the weather turns cold, it’s not long before Mainers hunker down for winter. But before that, there’s a little high school football playoff action to finish.

The playoffs are in the regional semifinal rounds in all classes.

The teams started the season in August heat and will end it in November chill. As weather and field conditions change, it only stands to reason that offenses have to change, some more than others.

Passing games that worked in the regular season aren’t always effective now. To win championships, teams must run the ball and play defense.

“In late-fall weather conditons, you have to have a running game,” said Falmouth Coach John Fitzsimmons, whose team will play at Mountain Valley tonight.

“It can be windy, rainy and cold. If a team throws, it has to have a sufficient number of runs to keep the defense honest.”

Most high school fields in the state are still grass. While field conditions are better than they used to be because of improved turf management, they still get chewed up. With heavy rain, those fields become quagmires and running the ball is the only thing a team can do.

In last year’s Western Class A final, those were the conditions at Windham High, even though the field is one of the best grass surfaces in the league. The Eagles drove the length of the field with nary a bobble at the start of the second half for the winning touchdown against Cheverus.

Teams can achieve their running goals out of a variety of formations.

No longer are teams running out of just the traditional wing T or I formations. There are a variety of option formations that teams still use, and of late, spread formations and the wildcat have become popular. The wildcat is a running formation.

In Western Class A, Bonny Eagle and Deering are devoted practitioners of the spread offense. The Scots have run it since 2004, the year of their first Class A state title.

Bonny Eagle looks to run first, then pass. Deering, which uses a no-huddle offense, is the opposite.

The Rams have been running the spread for two years because of quarterback Jamie Ross, who, if he isn’t throwing the ball, is running it.

Like many teams in Maine, Cheverus concentrates on running as its first option, as Coach John Wolfgram’s teams always have. But this year’s Stags can throw. In their last two games, quarterback Peter Gwilym has found a variety of receivers.

“It is mandatory in Maine high school football to be able to run the ball in November,” said Scarborough Coach Lance Johnson, who has engineered a turnround of the Red Storm program.

Johnson cited the prime benefits of a strong running game — ball possession and clock management.

“The clock runs without your opponent having a chance to score. If you run the ball successfully, you stay out of predictable third-and-long situations,” he said.

Johnson said the element of surprise is also a reward of a strong running game.

“You gain better pass options late in the game and late in the season if teams have not seen your pass formations early in the game or season,” he said. “The hardest thing to do offensively in high school football is protect the passer when the other team knows that you have to throw.”

Scarborough has developed a strong running game with depth in the backfield. Scott Thibeault and Mark Pearson have run effectively for the Red Storm.

Woody Hayes, the legendary Ohio State football coach, used to say that three things can happen when you pass, and two of them are bad.

The game has evolved since Hayes prowled the sidelines for the Buckeyes in a career that ended in 1978. Offenses are a lot more varied. The athletes are better and there seems to be more strong-armed quarterbacks whose teams throw it all over the field.

While some Maine teams like to air it out, the bottom line is that when the weather turns nasty, you have to be able to run the ball. Even on synthetic turf fields, the surface and ball can be slick when it rains. The playoff teams that have run the ball successfully during the season are positioned well to do the same when the games really count.

Staff Writer Tom Chard can be reached at 791-6419 or at:

[email protected]