GRETNA — The offense here hasn’t been stopped yet.
Case in point: Last week’s 21-20 overtime thriller at Radford. Even though Gretna lost, it still piled up 458 yards of total offense to the Bobcats’ 177.
That type of output — Gretna (2-1) also outscored its first two opponents 54-14 on average — has left coach Cole Simpson impressed by his squad so far.
“One of the best offensive teams I’ve ever coached, and I’ve been at Gretna a long time,” said Simpson, who is in his 10th season at GHS and sixth as the school’s head coach.
There are multiple reasons for that. The Hawks’ run-based offense is powerful. It showcases multiple running backs who can take control at any time. It features a dual-threat quarterback and a couple quality receivers.
The engine, though, is the offensive line.
“It’s the speed of the backs combined with an offensive line that is playing just phenomenal,” Simpson said.
The line looks like this: 6-foot-2, 225-pound senior guard Corlyn Witcher and fellow guard Jaxson Moon, a 225-pound sophomore; stout senior center Nathan Waller; tackles Eli Bond, a junior, and Onsley Baker, a freshman; and senior tight end Devonte Blair.
Together, the six players have willed the offense forward. And they’ll put it on display when the Hawks welcome rival William Campbell to Lester Bond Field on Friday. Kickoff for the always-anticipated game is slated for 7 p.m.
Gretna’s speed in the running game is no surprise. Most of the same playmakers toting the ball for big gains this season were in the system last year, too, when the Hawks went 9-3.
They include Jorden Berger, who has a Division I offer from Morgan State, Daelyn Miller, Cameron Mabins, Isaiah Griffin and quarterback Tabron Mabins.
But the most improved facet for Gretna is the O-line.
It’s a welcome sign. There have been lean years here for the celebrated program that churned out five state championships in a nine-year period from 2003 through 2011. There was a 1-9 season in 2014 and a 3-7 finish in ’16.
Those days are long gone. Gretna is back to its old ways, a football factory that produces one talented player after another.
And a robust, hard-hitting offensive line is a good sign. Gretna has a chance to grab the title in a wide open Dogwood District and could prove tough to beat come playoff time.
“They’ve been doing a tremendous job,” Berger said of the line. “A big improvement from last year. I feel like that was one of our weaknesses last year. This year they’ve outdone themselves.”
Partly because of improved blocking skills, the 6-foot-1 Berger leads his team with 323 rushing yards on 28 attempts, good for 11.5 yards per carry.
He isn’t the only one enjoying success. Gretna’s four main carriers have combined for 1,075 rushing yards through three games, good for a staggering average of 358 yards per game. They’ve also combined for 13 touchdowns.
Cameron Mabins, who has totaled 282 yards so far, is averaging 13.4 yards per carry. Miller (239 yards) averages 14 per tote. And Griffin, a basketball star who was one of the Lynchburg area’s leading scorers as a freshman last season, has carried the ball only 10 times; still, he’s racked up 231 yards for an eye-popping 23.1 yards per carry.
“Those guys are doing what we expect of them,” Simpson said of his upperclassmen running backs.
“It’s the guys up front who have been really impressive.”
Even against Radford, which features 6-foot-5 tackle and Vanderbilt commit Ben Cox and 6-4 Kip Green, Gretna held its own at times, Simpson noted.
Waller, the senior center, said that Friday’s game against William Campbell (3-1) is important, especially since his team is coming off a loss.
“I’d say we’re dedicated,” Waller added when asked about what makes his offensive line such a force this year. “We have a whole lot more enthusiasm.”
Witcher, who doubles as a defensive end and is in his fourth varsity season, said members of the O-line pack a punch.
“We feel like we’ve got more to prove,” he said. “We’ve got an edge to us. [We saw] the results of the past years and felt like we could have gone farther than we did. So we just wanna go over the top.”
Even though Gretna doesn’t pass often, it benefits there, too. Quarterback Tabron Mabins gets more time to relax in the pocket, hitting receivers like Dominick Meeks.
“Those six guys,” Simpson said of his O-line, “it’s just unbelievable how well they’re playing.”
Linemen, of course, are typically among the least celebrated players on the field. They battle in the trenches, content to stay out of the limelight. Witcher falls into that category.
“I love to see them get in the end zone,” he said of Gretna’s playmakers, “and I know they’re gonna make things easier on us, too.”