There was a crack in the line, Allan Perlas saw it and ran toward the opening at full speed. An eye-blink later, it was slammed shut by the defense. Too late. Perlas, head down, legs churning, was through, sprinting into the secondary. By the time the defenders recovered, he had gained almost seven yards.
It has become an increasingly familiar scene for anyone who has watched Capistrano Valley High School’s football team this season. Indeed, a simple formula for success--give Perlas the ball, block reasonably well, then watch him run--has shaken the Cougars from their early-season doldrums and pushed them into contention for a South Coast League championship.
The numbers tell the story best. In Capistrano Valley’s first four games, Perlas averaged 44 1/2 yards per game, and the Cougars stumbled to a 1-3 record. In the past four, he has averaged 172 1/2, leading the Cougars to four consecutive victories going into tonight’s game against Mission Viejo.
What looked like a lost season--after Capistrano Valley won the Southern Section Division II championship last year--has now taken a sudden turn for the better.
Much of the credit belongs to Perlas, a senior who is often the shortest Capistrano Valley player on the field.
At first glance, Perlas might pass for the team’s ever-hustling, never-say-uncle special teams standout. Or maybe even the field-goal kicker.
But take a closer look: He’s a 5-foot-7, 190-pound package of muscles, honed into rock-solid shape by hours of labor in the Cougar weight room. Throw in the added bonus of speed, perhaps the best of any back in the league, according to Cougar Coach Eric Patton, and Perlas has been nearly impossible to stop in recent games.
Subtle adjustments have been made along the offensive line, confidence has soared, Perlas has run opponents ragged and Capistrano Valley has won.
“Our line was thinking, ‘If we push and block hard enough, maybe we can get four yards out of this,’ ” Patton said. “Now they’re thinking, ‘If we push and block hard enough, maybe Allan can pop this thing for a touchdown.’ ”
Many times, the slightest opening has been enough for Perlas to squirt through on his way to an average of 6.8 yards per carry. And when there are bigger holes, Perlas has gone for broke.
Two weeks ago in a 47-27 rout of rival El Toro, he galloped through openings as big as he has ever had the pleasure of running through. When the dust settled, he had gained 256 yards and scored on touchdown runs of 56, eight, 12, six and 16 yards, in 28 glorious carries.
How sweet it was.
“We don’t like the guys from El Toro,” Perlas said. “It’s just the way they are. I guess it’s their attitude. That made it a lot better--not just that I got it (all those yards and touchdowns), but that it was against them. Hopefully, it will happen against Mission Viejo, too.”
In an attempt to keep teams from keying solely on Perlas, who lines up as the only back in Capistrano Valley’s one-back formation, the coaching staff has taken steps to disguise the offense.
“We run maybe two plays out of seven different formations,” said Robbie Schmitz, Capistrano Valley’s offensive coordinator. “You’ve got to be able to show other things. There’s no way we can just line up and have Allan run for 200 yards against El Toro.”
So far, the deceptive alignments have helped Capistrano Valley stay one step ahead of the defenses. Moreover, the Cougars haven’t totally abandoned their potent passing attack, which has made it more difficult to determine what’s coming next--pass or run.
“I think Robbie’s put together an offense that’s deceptively simple,” Patton said. “The one-back has worked amazingly well. It’s a situation that lends itself to running the ball. There’s no secret. You should be able to stop it.”
With his speed and ability to keep moving forward, Perlas makes the offense beat a tick faster. It seems his small size works to his advantage when it comes to staying on his feet.
In a game against Edison this season, Perlas ran into a pack of defenders and took a big hit, which lifted him off his feet, straight up. Instead of crash-landing, Perlas, in near-perfect balance, hit the ground running and went on to a sizable gain.
“It was like he came down a slide; his feet were turning the whole time,” Patton said.
Perlas acknowledged his quickness, but pointed to his strength as the main reason he’s so difficult to bring down.
“I feel like I can take hits and break more tackles,” Perlas said. “I know if I can’t go any farther, I just put my head down. I don’t really have the jukes. I know I can’t outrun everyone.”
So far, that hasn’t been necessary. With Perlas averaging nearly seven yards a pop, it has been more than enough to keep Capistrano Valley moving in the right direction.