When Jeremiah Noaese stands tall for the Lincoln Abes, he has a pythonic presence.
The hulk-of-an-inside-receiver is also the team’s best pass-rushing threat – and was voted the 3A PCL’s co-defensive lineman of the year.
But when coach Masaki Matsumoto introduced a radical idea for the Abes’ offense last summer, Noaese seemed a bit jittery, especially at his role in all of it.
He would no longer be a wide receiver in a wide-open Air Raid attack.
Instead, the 6-foot-4, 230-pounder would become a lead blocker in a full-house, four-man backfield alignment (the Abes dub it technically as their “House” formation).
“At first, I didn’t want to do it,” Noaese said. “I wasn’t used to that kind of physicality in the middle.”
But Noaese got to thinking about some of the principles Matsumoto constantly preaches to his team. One of them was putting aside personal gain for the benefit of the whole.
“I thought about my brothers. I thought about my team. I knew I had to do it,” Noaese said. “If this helps my team get to the next step, I will do anything.”
Well, Lincoln is at a stage in the WIAA Class 3A state playoffs it has never been before – the final four. The Abes tangle with defending state champion Eastside Catholic on Saturday afternoon at Sammamish High School.
Lincoln is the first public school from Tacoma to advance to the football state semifinals since Wilson in 1998. The last Tacoma public school to win a state football title was Mount Tahoma in 1980.
No longer are the Abes the throw-it-all-over-the-lot type of offense, although they can certainly switch back into that gear if defenses commit a bevy of bodies to stop the new-look rushing attack.
“They found something that is so much more high-percentage, easy football,” said Seattle Prep coach Aaron Maul, whose team faced the Abes in the first round of the state playoffs.
Matsumoto went into last offseason knowing he had to come up with a different offensive scheme to counter defenses that dropped so many players into coverage against their Air Raid look.
New offensive coordinator Jason Bergstrom suggested the full house formation, something with which he was familiar coaching in youth leagues.
“I loved the idea,” Matsumoto said. “We had a similar formation three years ago with (former offensive coordinator) Shalls (Jacome), and called it ‘Bone’ – three running backs in shot gun, and we ran triple option out if it.
“If a team can spread you out and also go into a power (run) package … it is a nightmare. And now, that tight package isolates our great athletic receivers. Defenses have to pick and choose how to defend us.”
Of course, the full house is much more effective when you have the personnel to run it.
With his sturdy build and rugby-playing background, Noaese seemed ideal to fill the lead-blocker role.
“Some kids get intimidated by him,” Matsumoto said. “Sometimes, he goes into the line of scrimmage recklessly. In fact, in the first part of the season … he got ejected for targeting, so we’ve had to work with him not leading with his head, and bring those hips first.
“Even though he has the ability to lay people out, he has learned to be smart about it.”
Senior Abner Sio (5-11, 220), the 3A PCL player of the year, and junior Julien Simon (6-2, 215), one of the state’s top recruits in the class of 2021 (who also plays wide receiver), are the two featured running backs to line up alongside quarterback Caden Filer.
Nearly six weeks ago in a league showdown against Lakes, the Abes unleashed their full-house attack, rushing a season-high 44 times for 262 yards in a 42-21 victory.
And since then, their pass-run ratios have flipped: In the first half of the season, Lincoln passed the football 62 percent of the time in the Air Raid. After the switch five games ago, the Abes have run the football nearly 59 percent of the time.
And yet, the Abes are still getting plenty of pass-game production, tallying more yards (1,294-1,034) and touchdowns (18-14) than the run-game has over that five-game span.
Maul said two weeks ago, he noticed that the full-house formation was starting to integrate more spread-attack concepts into it, especially with perimeter runs.
“And they out-tempo-ed us out of it, too – and we play in a conference that plays fast,” Maul said. “That was pretty impressive.”
Months later, Noaese is now glad he bought into the change.
“It is about adapting and adjusting,” Noaese said. “You can do that when you buy into a program.”