Juggernaut: A massive, inexorable force, campaign, movement or object that crushes whatever is in its path.
That’s the Merriam-Webster definition. Elyria Catholic’s definition is simpler: a way to win football games.
In the regular-season finale against Rocky River and the first-round playoff victory over Anna, the Panthers leaned on an offense they’ve been using that defenses have yet to stop.
The concept of the juggernaut package is simple: Senior running back Leighton Banjoff lines up about 7 yards behind center. There are fullbacks a step in front of him on his left and right. When the ball is snapped, everyone else looks for someone to hit while Banjoff takes the snap and looks for a hole to take off through.
Three fullbacks — Joshua Miller, Stephen Ferguson and Luke Costantino — rotate in. Up to eight offensive linemen are on the field when the Panthers go to the juggernaut.
It started in the second half of the Panthers’ 30-7 Week 7 win over Holy Name. The Panthers’ offense was sputtering, so they went big.
Banjoff had just 41 rushing yards in the first half against the Green Wave, but running out of the juggernaut, he put up 111 yards and three touchdowns in the second half.
“That was when it really started,” Elyria Catholic coach Brian Fox said. “We’d run it to get some offensive linemen some touchdowns before that. We were just so good up front at Holy Name and it really changed the season.
“When we brought it out there was just so much energy behind it. There was an intense mindset and we’ve been riding that ever since.”
The next week in the Panthers’ showdown with Bay, Banjoff had 36 carries for 244 yards and three touchdowns.
In Week 9 against Normandy, he carried the ball 14 times for 175 yards with rushing touchdowns of 89 and 8 yards. In the season finale against Rocky River, Banjoff muscled his way to 287 yards on 29 carries with touchdown runs of 8 and 78 yards.
In last week’s playoff opener at home against Anna, the Panthers were struggling offensively on the sloppy natural grass turf at Knights of Columbus Field. How bad was it? They had minus-9 total yards in the first quarter.
Elyria Catholic trailed 7-0 heading into the second quarter.
Then it was juggernaut time. Banjoff and the Panthers scored three touchdowns in the second quarter to turn the game around.
Banjoff’s first carry in the traditional offense resulted in a 4-yard loss. His final 36 carries, all but one out of the juggernaut, netted 267 yards and four touchdowns. He scored on runs of 63, 62, 2 and 1 yards.
Fox learned the juggernaut from its creator, Wade Lytal, when they were on the same coaching staff.
“It actually goes all the way back to when I was at Illinois College, six or seven years ago,” Fox said. “We had a whole bunch of bodies and we were trying to get the offensive line more involved.
“We had a fullback, but didn’t get into a lot of fullback sets. It was one of those things where we had to kind of adapt. Our offensive line coach drew it up and we went with it. We were three-for-three scoring touchdowns that year, and I’ve been wanting to run it ever since.”
In Banjoff, Fox found the perfect running back to take advantage of the formation.
“Some kids have inhibitions holding them back,” Fox said. “On contact they stop their feet. There are other kids that are almost out of control, and the kids that are out of control are generally better at football.
“There is nothing holding Leighton back. Nothing is going to stop him. He’s a very reactive runner. When I see nothing, he sees something and he just bulls forward.”
The Panthers also have a bevy of offensive linemen that can create the physical advantages up front that Banjoff needs to exploit.
Offensive linemen Griffin Davies, Brian Beury, Andrew Dykin, Branson Taylor, Ryan Roark, Darrius Randleman, Sean Decker and Jack Decker are a combined 2,315 pounds of muscle that, in the juggernaut, are called on to simply hit everything in their way.
“It’s all the offensive line,” Costantino said. “Honestly, what I do is wait for those big bodies to get great blocks up front, then I just find a hole and block whoever is there to send Leighton Banjoff off to the races.”
Dykin said the juggernaut set gets the offensive linemen fired up.
“It’s a lot of fun because we get to show how well we work together as a unit,” he said. “We worked hard all summer and in the offseason, and that’s really paid off because we’re strong enough to run this offense.
“We get to do what we do best. As offensive linemen we have to be the best unit on the field, and when we can move the ball like we have in the juggernaut it shows how much we enjoy being physical and working as a team.”
The Panthers are not just a power-running team, however. Senior quarterback Cameron Engrish has a Division I college offer from Butler University thanks to having thrown for over 2,100 yards and 27 touchdowns.
When the Panthers run the juggernaut, Engrish is on the sidelines. Something that doesn’t bother him at all.
“Whatever we have to do to win I’m comfortable with,” he said. “I know I have to contribute in some way. If I’m not in the game I know I can contribute to the team in other ways. Whatever I can do to help support, until my time comes, is really what I have to do.”
He came off the bench against Anna to lead EC to a pair of late touchdowns, the second a 40-yard drive in the game’s final minute that resulted in the game-winner.
“Cameron is an extremely high-character kid, and because of that he can handle this,” Fox said. “I don’t think anyone else on the team could have handled it the way he has handled it.
“He knew we were going to come back to him. He knew when he got his chance he was going to play well. You saw an extremely confident kid come back onto the field and, playing his first meaningful football of the game, take control of it.”
Contact Mike Perry at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.