GERALDINE — Football has undergone a dramatic shift in the past decade or so.
With the growth and popularity of the spread offense, smashmouth, power football has gone by the wayside. This is even more evident in 6-Man, where teams such as Westby-Grenora and Hot Springs have found success running run-pass option (RPO) plays and getting their skill guys in space.
“Speed kills, and as they say in baseball, speed never slumps,” Geraldine-Highwood coach Brandon Gondeiro said.
But Gondeiro and Rod Tweet’s Geraldine-Highwood team is a throwback to the traditional style.
“If we want to and we have our druthers, we’re going to sit in, line up in the (I-formation), block you whichever way we can,” Gondeiro said. “It’s what’s been successful up here in the North. I think a lot of that has to do with geography off the Rocky Mountain Front. When you play in our region in November, it gets snowy, it gets windy, it gets miserable, so you have to be able to line up and pound the football to be successful as November gets a little bit later. That’s really our bread and butter. If you get in a game where it’s snowing, it kind of negates the throwing.”
Gondeiro joked that Westby-Grenora head coach Troy Walters will swear by the wind in Geraldine. In the 2014 6-Man state championship, which the Rivals won 37-21, the wind was howling, limiting what the Thunder could do offensively.
Gondeiro played at Highwood under longtime coach Mike Nelson, who is now an assistant at Great Falls Central. His philosophy comes straight from Nelson’s playbook — “Always be effective enough passing it if you needed to get back in a game, but make sure you can line up and run the ball,” Gondeiro said.
Although the Rivals’ identity is that of a physical, power football team, they do have the ability to spread teams out, as evidenced in their victory over an even more physical Big Sandy team.
“We’ve done that four and five years ago when we won state back-to-back. We have a couple wrinkles we like to throw in as far as spread,” Gondeiro said. “But when we have it, we think that no matter what defense there is, if we do what we should do, we should be able to move the ball on the ground.
“As much as Coach Tweet likes to give me a hard time about being a spread guy who likes to run the spread, at the end of the day we both want to line up in the I, line up in the wing, move people and get big chunks with our isos, our dives, our sweeps, our powers, whenever we need it.”
While Geraldine-Highwood’s style might not match the new, innovative, high-scoring offenses around the state, Gondeiro believes his ground attack is conduce to winning football games.
And nothing has proved otherwise. The Rivals are currently 4-1 and No. 2 in the MontanaSports.com polls with their only loss at No. 1 Wibaux by two points. Geraldine-Highwood has had a gauntlet of an early-season schedule, defeating likely playoff teams Big Sandy and No. 3 Richey-Lambert.
A postseason rematch with Richey-Lambert or Wibaux is within the realm of possibility. The No. 1 seed from the North, likely Geraldine-Highwood, hosts the No. 2 seed from the East in the quarterfinals, should all hold true to form. As the North’s top seed, Geraldine-Highwood would have home-field advantage throughout the entirety of the playoffs.
“It’s a tough year to draw the East in that quarterfinal. Whatever matchup that is, if things hold true to form, those are just going to be slobberknockers. Fantastic games,” Gondeiro said. “It will be nice staying at home not having to travel and make the trip. The closer to home the better when it comes playoff time. You’re fighting illnesses, it gets colder, people get sick and run-down, so when you have that home-field advantage and get that extra night in your bed, I think that’s a great advantage. It’s a pain sometimes for the coaches and administrators to get the fields ready and whatnot, but I think it’s well worth it as far as your team success.”
Team success is the first thing on the mind of Gondeiro’s players. The impending split of Geraldine and Highwood into two separate programs has been kept largely on the back burner this season. Instead, the Rivals are focused on a singular goal.
“I think having the seven seniors that we do kind of places (the split) there,” Gondeiro said. “Next year isn’t much of a concern to them, as it shouldn’t be. Their focus is living in the moment. We’re pretty much ‘today’s a day we need to get better,’ because at the end of November they want to be hosting a championship game and hopefully hoisting a trophy, because that’s what matters.”