By CHRIS EASTERLING
Independent sports editor
SUGAR CREEK TWP. Tuke Olmstead remembers times when it didn’t seem like Fairless had a dozen different weapons to turn to on offense.
“I remember my sophomore year (in 2011), one of the seniors was Brandon Hogue,” the senior receiver said this week. “If Brandon Hogue came out of the game, that was it. We were going to try and run the ball and this and that.”
Needless to say, that Falcons team struggled to win games. They finished 2-8 that year.
Two years later, Fairless is anything but an offense with just one weapon. And because of that, the Falcons aren’t just winning games, they’re lighting up scoreboards on their way to a 7-3 record.
That is why they find themselves preparing this week for just the second playoff game in school history this Saturday night at Black River.
“It’s the ability to have what they have,” Black River coach Al Young said of Fairless’ offense. “They throw the ball all over the place. They do a wonderful job. You try to lay off and game that, and they’re going to screen the heck out of you. But if you try to rush too many, they’re going to screen you with tunnel screens. They do a great job.”
Obviously, one player has been at the center of that offensive spotlight. Quarterback Hunter Wells has shattered the Stark County career passing record while throwing for 3,111 yards and 30 touchdowns in his final season.
But those 3,111 yards have been spread around to a variety of targets. The Falcons boast arguably the deepest pool of receivers in the area, with six different players having made at least 19 catches for a minimum of 222 receiving yards this season.
“We have a lot of weapons on our team,” the Youngstown State-bound Wells said. “It helps me out a lot. ... You’ve got all those kids. They’ve been a factor in our offense. It’s been good, because you can’t shut down one of us.”
No, you can’t.
Take away leading receiver Bryant Wickham, who had a team-high 56 catches for 825 yards and 9 touchdowns despite missing two games with a leg injury, and there’s Austin Weyandt there to haul in 48 passes for 822 yards and 8 scores. Focus on those two, and Zack Kelly’s picking up 497 yards on 33 catches, or Jeremy Mahaffey’s grabbing 38 passes for 365.
If all four of those guys are covered, well, Olmstead has 19 catches for 222 yards and Christian Simmons has another 15 grabs for 223 yards. And if you want to drop back deep to take away the pass, well, Mahaffey also has 1,014 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns.
“You drop eight, and we can run the ball,” Wells said. “There’s so much things we can do this year that we couldn’t be able to do the past few years.”
It makes for quite a quandary for opposing defenses to deal with. Few have been able to completely solve the Falcons’ attack.
The closest that has happened was in back-to-back losses to Cuyahoga Valley Christian Academy and Indian Valley in Weeks 8 and 9. Fairless had a season-low 14 points in the former — on 300 total yards — and a season-low 204 total yards in the latter.
Yet, the response from the Falcons was to post 522 total yards and a season-high 63 points in last week’s regular-season finale against archrival Tuslaw. Much of that was gained in the first three quarters, after which Fairless led 63-14.
“There was a couple of stretches there where we were going a little slow,” Weyandt said. “I think we got it back last week. Hopefully we can take it into the playoffs because we have a lot of people who can do a lot of things.”
Reach Chris at 330-775-1128
On Twitter: @ceasterlingINDE