The beginnings of Genoa's high-scoring wing-T offense can be traced back to the late Skip Baughman, the longtime coach at St. Mary's Memorial High School.
Genoa assistant coach Tim Spiess and head coach Mike Vicars were tutored by Baughman, who won four state titles in 36 years at St. Mary's Memorial.
"He basically took me under his wing in 1989 and I took Mike under my wing," said Spiess, Genoa's offensive line coach and defensive coordinator. "For four years we were at Skip's doorstep and he told us everything he knew about football. He was a great guy. The time he spent with us talking about blocking angles, philosophies, what the defenses do, it was just a wonderful learning experience."
Mike Vicars' son, Ryan, has been going through a learning experience of his own in this, his first season coaching at Genoa.
Ryan, 22, was a two-year starting quarterback at Delta, where his father coached prior to moving to Genoa before the 2007 season. Ryan twice led the Panthers to the state playoffs, losing to Versailles in the state semifinals as a junior and then losing to Coldwater in double overtime in the second round his senior year.
Ryan directed pretty much the same wing-T offense the Comets have used to win back-to-back Suburban Lakes League titles and earn the school's first two playoff appearances. Genoa was 13-0 and ranked fourth in the state in Division IV heading into Friday's state semifinals against Kettering Archbishop Alter (11-2).
"I was in the Nate Kmic era (at Delta), so we ran the ball more than we do now," Ryan said, referring to Delta's All-Ohio halfback. "We met with Patrick Henry's head coach, Bill Inselman, and we went back and forth on the phone, and we've incorporated some of the passing game they've been so successful with, including winning a state title in 2005."
Ryan helps his father coach the offense along with assistant coach T.J. Buckley, who coaches the running backs. Ryan and Sean Buckley both work with Genoa's quarterbacks.
"Sean makes sure the right personnel gets in for the play that gets called," Ryan said. "He listens in to see if everyone is in the right area on the field. I'm up in the booth and I help my dad with looking at how defenses are lining up and how I think plays might go. I can see from above better than you can on the field, to see adjustments the defenses might be making.
"My dad trusts me and we have a close bond. Even when I played, he values my opinion since I've been around the game my entire life. It's been a good experience being my first year and having my dad as the head coach."
Mike said, "I love working with Ryan. He was a quarterback for me at Delta, so he understands what we want to do. He has worked very hard to improve our passing game. He understands that phase of the game better than I do. He and Sean Buckley have done a great job with the development of Matt Bassitt. I really trust Ryan and he really helps me from the press box on Friday night."
Ryan said his father "takes it as a lot of fun" when other coaches and fans downplay the Comets' wing-T attack. In these days of spread offenses, Genoa is showing everyone that misdirection running plays are still effective.
Through 13 games the Comets were averaging 47.2 points and 292 rushing yards per game. Senior halfback Blair Skilliter led Genoa with 1,040 yards rushing (10.3 yards per carry) and 15 touchdowns; four different Genoa running backs had gained more than 500 yards on the ground.
Following a third-round playoff win over Ottawa-Glandorf, Mike Vicars joked that Genoa's attack was a "junior high offense."
"We've gotten that a lot from other teams," Ryan said. "The way the spread has really come about and been so popular, people look at the wing-T as taking a snap and handing it off. Other people say, 'Man, all these teams are getting beat by this simple offense?' "
The Comets are far from a run-only team. Bassitt, a junior quarterback, has completed 77-of-119 passes for 1,300 yards and 21 touchdowns, with five interceptions. Top receiver Zach Apel had 42 catches for 776 yards and 12 TDs in 13 games.
"In the bigger games, we've thrown more because it entails it," Ryan Vicars said. "At Delta we had more of a play-action game. At Genoa, we've incorporated more of a a drop-back passing game. Me and my father concurred that we needed that to get us to the next level. When teams stack the box, you have to be able to throw. We figured that this three-step-drop passing game is a good way to get the ball away quick, and it's very hard to defense."
Ryan said the thing he likes most about the wing-T is its diversity.
"We chart every play on a computer so we can get a breakdown of every formation that's called and every play that's called," he said. "We can go back and look at the breakdown for the tapes that certain teams have on us. The diversity of the offense, you can do so many different things, but you can still go back to what you do best."
In the end, though, it all comes down to how well the players execute the offense, be it the wing-T or the spread.
"We have some very good players," Ryan said. "They're very adaptable to what we want to do. They're very quick to pick up what we want to do and it makes the transition pretty seamless. Our players are smart to the game of football and they do real well at adjusting as the game goes on."