Steve Warner talks fast, and that isn’t a surprise.
There’s not much of a need for a filter for the Buhler football coach, who is as sure with his words as he is with his decision making.
It was unnecessary for Warner to second-guess himself over handing the Crusaders’ quarterback job to sophomore Jace Williams after senior Luke Berblinger was injured in the first game of the season.
And that potential catastrophe didn’t call for changes within Buhler’s offense, an all-encompassing unit that finds creative ways to get the ball to the Crusaders’ playmakers.
Digital Access For Only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
So there was no learning curve after Williams replaced Berblinger and no adjustments when star running back Riley Allen missed two games with an ankle injury and was replaced by Denton Branscom.
“We’re doing the things we wanted to do,” Warner said. “No. 1, we have Riley, so you want to make sure he gets the ball. Each quarterback brought different things to the table, but for the most part we were going to have the same game plans.
“We didn’t have a game plan for Jace and a game plan for Luke, we never had that. We had a game plan to win football games.”
With all the shakeup during the season, Buhler, heading into Saturday’s Class 4A championship game against Coffeyville, essentially looks the same as it did at the beginning of the season, at least philosophically.
Allen is the focal point of the offense, a fact further established by how he responded since returning from his injury on Oct. 25 against Cheney. Since then, he has rushed for 933 yards in five games, often leaving early to nurse his ankle or because Buhler owned a significant lead.
Allen may be indispensable, but as Bransom proved by rushing for 977 yards – exactly 800 fewer than Allen – and a 7.4 average, not completely irreplaceable. That’s the idea for every player in Buhler’s offense, which highlights the personnel rather than forcing players to fit into a particular screen.
When Branscom isn’t in the backfield, he can be just as dangerous lining up outside, as he led Buhler in receptions and receiving touchdowns. Allen and Branscom are also special-teams weapons.
“The depth is very important,” Warner said. “Branscom can play three or four different positions for us. Luke Berblinger played eight different positions in the (state semifinal) game against Holton. That’s just a tribute to both those guys, knowing everything we do and willing to work for this team.”
Buhler’s evolution most affected Berblinger, who was eager to prove himself at quarterback in his final high school season. He missed four games, and the injury limited his abilities to thrive in the Crusaders’ fast-paced offense, so Warner opted to hand the job to Williams.
Nothing else about Berblinger’s season has been limited, though. He hasn’t played any quarterback since Week 1, but he’s played just about everywhere else – fullback, tight end, defensive back, on the lines.
His knowledge of Warner’s schemes and his experience within them enabled Berblinger to conquer most positions and eliminated his momentary disappointment over losing the quarterback job.
“Being a senior, that helps, being around everything,” Berblinger said. “Also, being at quarterback last year, you have to know what every receiver is doing at all times, and what the backfield is doing. My sophomore year I played tight end, so I know all the blocking schemes up front. It’s pretty easy, and I can pretty much just do whatever.”
Doing whatever essentially sums up Buhler’s approach, though the system and play-calling are plenty organized. Williams aids the electric running attack but is a big-play quarterback with his arm, too, averaging better than 18 yards per completion.
The blocking schemes are equally sophisticated, adjusting for Allen’s bruising up-the-middle style that starts his acceleration, for Williams’ time in the pocket, and for Branscom and others to use their abilities in a variety of ways.
During Saturday’s championship game, the Crusaders plan on sticking to basics while allowing each player’s strengths to be displayed.
“We don’t want to change anything,” Warner said. “We want to continue to do the things we’ve been successful at. We know we’re playing a very good, physical team that has a lot of speed, but there’s no reason to do anything different. To be honest, we’ve been doing this kind of stuff for a long time.”