Deerfield’s football team looked like it was playing its first offensive series of the season Friday night.
On the road against Zion-Benton, the Warriors — a veer-option team — went three-and-out on their first possession.
“They were over-defending the tight end side,” Deerfield junior quarterback Brian Ranallo said. “We were flustered. The line was confused.”
Between series, Ranallo and his offensive teammates met behind the Deerfield bench with assistant coach Brandon Geuder to make adjustments. The next time Deerfield’s offense got the ball, it managed a few first downs. Later in the first quarter, a Zion-Benton punt miscue gave the Warriors great field position. With 46 seconds left in the quarter, Ranallo ran 37 yards for a touchdown.
The rout was on, resulting in a 35-12 victory.
Deerfield coach Steve Winiecki was pleased with his quarterback’s Week 1 statistics. Ranallo totaled 67 yards on 12 carries. He threw for 68 more yards on 3-of-3 passing. But Winiecki was most excited by Ranallo’s response after the team’s failed opening drive.
“He didn’t panic. He didn’t say, ‘Coach, we didn’t practice this.’ He just ran the offense,” Winiecki said.
Ranallo’s cool demeanor did not emerge by happenstance.
After playing in three games at the end of 2013, Ranallo knew he’d be the favorite to win the quarterback job this fall, but he took nothing for granted. He ran track in the spring, competing in the long jump, 100-meter run and 4×100 relay. Morning weight lifting sessions added 10 pounds of muscle to his 6-foot-1 frame.
Now a stout 190 pounds, Ranallo said he noticed the offseason work during summer football contact drills and against Zion-Benton.
“I knew I had to get my body prepared to take tons of hits,” Ranallo said. “Coming off the line, I get that burst and explosion. I can run into guys and run through tackles.”
Senior lineman Graham Tonner said becoming stronger and faster has transformed his teammate into a confident quarterback.
“Last year he played, but he didn’t have much experience. He’s mentally stronger and much more prepared to be a better player than last year,” Tonner said.
During its opening win, Deerfield mimicked the poise of its quarterback. Penalties were few (four accepted, one motion call), and the Warriors did not turn the ball over. Junior fullback Johnny Fisher ran for 104 yards on 20 carries. Senior linebacker Michael Kuras was credited with 18 tackles, two for losses.
Friday was Winiecki’s 15th season opener as Warriors coach. He couldn’t remember a better one.
“We played well in all three phases. It was one of the best opening games since I’ve been a head coach,” Winiecki said.
Deerfield’s ability to repeat that performance will ride largely on the body and brain of Ranallo.
“We had great intensity in [preseason] and it carried over into the first game,” Ranallo said. “Now it’s time to take it into the next game and the next game.”