'Why get cute?': How the simplest play in football earned East its win over Auburn

Matt Trowbridge
Rockford Register Star
East's Mahki Mathews picks up a couple of yards against Auburn on Friday, Sept. 16, 2022, at Auburn High School in Rockford.

ROCKFORD — The simplest play in football also has one of the highest success rates. Yet it’s rarely called.

Except at East.

The E-Rabs have the two most dynamic running backs in the NIC-10, yet Javius Catlin and Deterrace Dotson spent much of Friday night pushing rather than running. Pushing quarterback Mahki Mathews.

East didn’t beat Auburn 22-14 so much as the E-Rabs snuck past Auburn. With quarterback sneaks. A boat load of them.

“We would run it 25 plays in a row if we could,” East coach Gary Griffin said.

All the resultsHere is the scores from Week 4 around Rockford-area football

Mathews ran 17 times for 76 yards, most of them on quarterback sneaks. His only carry for less than 2 yards was a 1-yard TD run. He also had a 3-yard TD sneak.

Catlin ran for 110 yards and Dotson for 72, but East’s two star running backs for only 23 yards on 11 carries in the second half. Mathews was the one the E-Rabs (2-2) had move the chains in the second half.

“I usually don’t get the ball,” Mathews said. “It feels really good to run the ball, I’m not going to lie, really good.”

Ten of Mathews’ 17 carries went for first downs, almost all of them on sneaks.

“It’s impossible to stop,” Mathews said.

East's Deterrace Dotson finds an opening to pick up a few yards against Auburn on Friday, Sept. 16, 2022, at Auburn High School in Rockford.

“We saw their linebacker kept playing back, so we kept running,” Dotson said. “And I enjoy pushing. We were pushing them 5 or 6 yards every play. I think we’re going to run that throughout the season even more. That’s a good play.

“That’s not even one of our plays. We just saw them playing back. Our coaches adjusted, and we started running it. That’s very fun and very exciting to block for my quarterback and push him 5 yards without him even running. We were pushing him off his feet.”

On many of those plays, Mathews was lost in a crowd. It looked more like rugby than football, with his running backs charging up from behind to shove him in the back — and keep the pile moving forward.

“My fullback was pushing me, my linemen were pushing me, they were destroying them up front,” Mathews said. “I was getting easy yards.”

More:7 things we learned about Rockford-area high school football in Week 4

Mathews’ 1-yard sneak broke a 6-all tie and gave East a 14-6 lead 14 seconds before the half. But even 14 seconds almost gave Auburn (1-3) enough time. Anthony Purifoy threw a 32-yard pass to Alvino Vela to get Auburn inside the East 20 before time ran out.

“You can only do what the defense gives you. Why get cute?” Griffin said. “Guys don’t understand that. And I don’t understand why guys are like that. We’re going to do whatever works for us, keeps the clock moving, keeps the chains moving and keeps them off the field. They are one of the most explosive teams in this area. There is no way on the planet we want to give them the ball on offense. We tried to hold it as long as we could.”

Auburn's head coach Willie Tolon talks to his team during a timeout on Friday, Sept. 16, 2022, at Auburn High School in Rockford.

The E-Rabs were sneaking so well they even called it once on 2nd-and-15. Mathews was held to 5 yards on the play.

Still, it worked so well that East controlled the ball virtually the entire game. Auburn had four plays that gained at least 32 yards. East topped that with two drives that didn’t score any points but each ran more than 8 minutes off the clock. And Mathews won it with a 3-yard sneak to break a 14-14 tie with 3:34 to play.

“He’s real confident in what he is doing,” Catlin said. “That’s what I like about him. He’s a real confident quarterback. He executes. He never shows any type of emotion. He just executes. That’s why he kept getting all of those runs. He was calm and confident with it and got all those yards.”

The quarterback sneak can look like the most boring play in football. But not the way East runs it.

“It’s extremely fun,” said Mathews, who hopes to keep running it. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”