Blazers’ ‘Bat’ Boy
Slater Finds Holes And Darts Into End Zone
HARRISONBURG – The closer Matt Slater is to the end zone, the more unstoppable the Spotswood High School senior tailback becomes.
In Spotswood’s 49-48 double-overtime win at formidable Central on Friday, Slater scored on six of his 18 red-zone carries. For the season, Slater – who is believed to have set a school record for single-game scoring (36 points) – has averaged 10.7 yards on his 13 touchdown runs, 12 of which have come inside an opponent’s 20-yard line.
The Blazers have run plays in the red zone on 14 scoring drives.
“Credit to our offensive line because they make it easy for me when we get down close,” Slater said after practice Monday. “Sometimes, I don’t even get hit and we just punch it in. I guess we just like to do what we can easily, and that’s just hand the ball off to the tailback.”
It’s not like opposing teams don’t know about Spotswood’s willingness to run the ball in close. However, the 6-foot-1, 190-pound Slater has averaged 4.4 yards on 30 red-zone carries – an impressive mark considering he had four 1-yard scores at Central and two others from inside the 4 this season.
Slater is averaging 6.2 yards per carry overall, leading the area with 717 rushing yards, 116 carries and 91 points (including 11 extra points as a backup kicker and a two-point conversion).
“He’s not the fastest cat in the world, so it gives him a little bit of time to read what’s happening and to see little gaps and holes that open up,” Dodson said of Slater’s red-zone prowess. “We do some tire drills in practice where we dive through tires. He really does a good job finding holes. He’s like a bat. He seeks it out.”
Slater is the second Harrisonburg/Rockingham tailback to score six TDs in a game in the past two seasons; Broadway’s Trevor Bostic did it last year against Waynesboro, setting the BHS single-game scoring record with 36 points. Harrisonburg’s Michael Holmes scored eight times against R.E. Lee as a junior in 2009, earning him national recognition in Sports Illustrated.
Dodson said SHS (3-1) has “tinkered” with its red-zone playbook in preparation for winless Waynesboro this week, looking to get other people involved. The only other Blazers with red-zone touchdowns are fullback Hunter Garrison and wide receiver Isaac Baker. Both scored in the second half with SHS comfortably ahead of weak William Monroe – Garrison on a 4-yard run and Baker on a 17-yard pass from Zach Polglase.
But clearly Slater has proven to be a good option in close.
“We’re running a variety of plays, eight or nine plays, and he’s just kind of been the recipient,” Dodson said. “It kind of helps when you have all that size up front.”
Led by offensive tackle Ben Winegard, the Blazers’ front line doesn’t end with five big bodies. Fullbacks Billy Ehle and Michael Hernandez – two starting guards from last season – rotate in as lead blockers when Spotswood runs out of the I-formation.
“I wouldn’t say I make people miss that much,” said Slater, who has 21 runs of 10 yards or more, including a 53-yard gain at Central. “I just like to spin off and get what I can on every play. … I don’t think I feel any more pressure when we get inside the 20 [compared to] anywhere else on the field.”
Before facing a Central defense that allowed eight points in two victories, Slater had averaged about 150 rushing yards in three games with seven total touchdowns. What made Friday so special?
Slater doesn’t subscribe to pre-game rituals. There was nothing out-of-the-ordinary in his diet that day. But Spotswood did get an early dismissal at 1 p.m., a Rockingham County-wide move to assist teachers with professional development.
The Blazers spent the extra time before the team meal in the SHS gym playing Madden football on somebody’s PlayStation 3, Slater said. There was only one video-game machine and 45 guys. Slater didn’t play, instead throwing a football with some teammates in the background.
“I didn’t want to embarrass them,” Slater said. “I’m just kidding. I’m not very good.”
Arriving in Woodstock early, Slater and his teammates had even more time to hang out at Central, capping a long calm before the storm of a high school football game with plenty of hype.
If it wasn’t the relaxed vibe that helped Slater’s big night, it probably came down to pressure and fear – two “imaginary things” that Dodson believes people put on themselves.
“I think when you’re that well-rounded and you’re in there so much, the fear factor is much less for a guy like that,” Dodson said of Slater, who doubles as a safety and is tied with Ehle for a team-leading 37 tackles.
But if you ask Slater, there is really only one thing he fears on the football field.
“All my teammates are working hard and I just don’t want to let them down,” Slater said.
He scored six times on Friday night to make sure that didn’t happen.