Marysville Pilchuck wide receiver Kyle Nobach remembers the exact moment he knew he was on the same page as Jake Luton.
It was the middle of last season and he was running a deep post route against Cascade. He looked back and saw his quaterback roll out, but Luton wasn’t looking in his direction. Nobach kept running and looked back again only to see the ball spiraling toward him. The speedy wideout hauled in the pass and scampered into the end zone for a 65-yard score.
Trust between quarterback and receiver was cemented.
“Jake just rolled out and I was running a deep post and he didn’t even look at me,” Nobach said. “He just knew I’d be there.”
The most incredible part isn’t the connection — that happens all the time on a football field — but it was the fact that first paragraph started with the words “Marysville Pilchuck.”
Perenially known as a smash-mouth running team, the Tomahawks’ offense has been built on the Wing-T for years. A relative of the more-famous wishbone offense, the Wing-T is centered on running the ball with four backs in the backfield — or a “Full House” formation. It’s an offense built on deception as the three backs criss-cross, dive up the middle or sweep around the end, giving the quarterback the option to either keep it or give it to any number of runners going in any number of directions.
That’s a simplified explanation but the central point remains: passing the football isn’t a priority. In fact for years most of the passing Marysville Pilchuck would do was simply to keep the defense honest and take pressure off its running game.
As always in high school football, though, personnel changes and new kids come in with different skill sets and Luton didn’t fit the proto-typical MP quarterback when he came up as a freshman in 2010. Quarterback that are shorter — better for deception — and athletic runners fit the Wing-T best, a good example being 2010 MP starter Tylor Klep, who rushed for 19 touchdowns. Luton, standing 6-foot-4 and armed with a cannon, wasn’t that.
“Obviously because of Jake’s size he wasn’t going to be a good option quarterback,” said Marysville Pilchuck head coach Brandon Carson. “When you have a kid like that you want to take advantage of it.”
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So Carson moved Luton up to junior varsity as a freshman and let the kid throw the ball. Last year Luton took over the starting job and never looked back.
It’s fair to say the offense changed immensely. Yes MP still wanted to beat teams with the run and it had a nice stable of running backs in Colby Merkt, Cody House, Andre Pina and Deion Stell, who nearly ran for a combined total of 2,000 yards. But Carson also freed up Luton to throw the ball more as well and he was rewarded for it with some flashes of brilliance, including the aforementioned pass to Nobach — one of three Luton passing TDs in the game — and a game-winning 39-yard touchdown pass to Nobach in the final minute of a come-from-behind win over Stanwood.
When the dust cleared Luton finished the season 50-for-120 for 823 yards and 11 touchdowns, nearly three times the amount of passes Klep threw in 2010.
“Our offense is changing more and more,” Luton said. “We’ll never be a full-spread offense, but we’ll surprise some people this year.”
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If last season was unleashing Luton on unexpected opponents, Carson said this year is about helping him get a better grasp on the offense and become a more consistent passer.
“We expect him to take the next step in his development,” Carson said of Luton, who has already received interest from schools like Cal, Washington State and Nebraska. “He’s a pretty talented kid.”
As for Luton, he said he wants to get more efficient — one goal is to cut his interceptions from nine last year to five or less — and top 1,000 yards passing.
Don’t look for Marysville Pilchuck to abandon the run-game anytime soon though. The Tomahawks have an electrifying back in sophomore Austin Joyner and Carson still preaches running the ball behind the usual big and physical offensive line built by assistant coach Scott Stokes.
“We still have a run-blocking scheme,” Carson said. “We still like to run the football like we used to.”
In fact Luton said he thinks teams may be looking for MP to throw more this season, which could open up the run.
“Teams can’t just throw eight guys in the box anymore and dare us to pass,” said Luton.
Teams overlooking the Tomahawks’ run game?
Who thought that was possible.