CARTHAGE Cory Marsell has had some versatile athletes run his option attack with great success over the years.
But perhaps the current signal-caller, junior Denzel Barnes, is the perfect fit for an offense that relies on the quarterback making the right reads and the right decisions in a quick-strike fashion.
Barnes was never better at the controls than Friday night in the Warriors Section 3 Class A National showdown with unbeaten and state-ranked Carthage.
All he did was direct the Indian River attack to 368 rushing yards, including 138 on 22 carries by himself, and score five touchdowns during an unexpected 48-12 rout.
Indian River (5-1 overall, 4-0 conference) took over the division lead and can win the title outright with a win on Friday at New Hartford.
The Carthage defense, which had allowed only 30 points in the first four conference games, was all but helpless to stop the Indian River ground game.
The Warriors physically handled the Comets at the line of scrimmage all night. Indian River averaged nearly seven yards per rush, and three other backs gained at least 60 yards.
That physical dominance, said Barnes, was the main reason the Warriors offense was so productive.
The line has really been working hard, and tonight they just took over, said Barnes, who scored on first quarter runs of 1 and 6 yards to get the Warriors off to a quick 14-0 start. I think weve been making pretty good progress this year. But tonight, we took a huge step forward.
Barnes added a 20-yard scoring run in the second quarter, an 8-yarder in the third and a 2-yarder in the fourth to cap off the Indian River scoring.
Marsell said Barnes is a perfect blend of quickness and ability, and has made the conversion from wingback look easy.
Hes got that running back mentality when hes running, Marsell said. But hes been making the reads a lot quicker the last few weeks, and really looks a lot more comfortable than he did at the beginning of the season.
Senior wingback Deondre Grier rushed for 86 yards on eight carries, including a 16-yard score, sophomore fullback Dustin Sharritt gained 71 yards on eight attempts, and senior Jakese Crockett contributed 61 yards on eight carries as Barnes divided up the carries almost equally.
Marsell said the key was being able to gain good yardage on the fullback dive. Once we established that, we could get to he outside a lot easier.
Carthage (5-1, 4-1) gave the Warriors good field position on the opening kickoff with a short kick.
Barnes marched Indian River 47 yards in 10 plays and went the final yard for the score just five minutes into the game.
Zachary LaForest-Hurd booted one of his six extra points, and the Warriors were off and running.
After the Indian River defense stopped the Comets deep in Warrior territory, Barnes guided a 7-play, 72-yard drive for a score, capping it off with a 1-yard sneak.
Josh Capers scored for Carthage on its next series on a short run. But Indian Rivers Shane Davis picked up the ensuing short kickoff and went 65 yards untouched for another Indian River score.
Indian River then recovered an onsides kick, and Barnes was in the end zone just six plays on a 20-yard gallop to make it 28-6.
Only a Bailey Wilkinson 1-yard TD run with a minute left in the half brought Carthage within 28-12 at halftime.
We dug ourselves a hole and couldnt find a way out, said a disappointed Carthage coach Sam Millich.
They beat us in every phase of the game tonight, he added. They were physically better and a lot quicker on both sides of the ball.
An 11-play, 65-yard Indian River drive that consumed over five minutes , leading to a Barnes 5-yard TD run, pretty much put the game out of reach in the third quarter.
I thought all of our backs really ran hard tonight, Marsell said. Weve been pushing the line to fire off the ball all year, and tonight they were great.
The Indian River defense allowed 277 yards on the ground. But as Marsell said, we bent but we didnt break very often.