Rushing to the Falcons' forefront

Seeking an offensive overhaul prior to the 2008 season, the Crescenta Valley High football team spread out its offense, spiced up the playbook and made a commitment to the vertical passing game. But before they could rev up the sparkling new engine under the hood, the Falcons still needed a good set of wheels to carry it all.

The task fell to Harry Pessy, who now hopes to lead Crescenta Valley back to the playoffs and farther in his second year as the Falcons’ feature running back.

In addition to piling up yards and end zone appearances out of the backfield, Pessy has been a critical component of the team’s aerial success at the same time, providing valuable balance and an essential nuance to the offense that keeps it multi-dimensional and keeps defenses on their toes.

“Even though we’re a spread offense, our objective is always to be balanced,” Crescenta Valley Coach Tony Zarrillo says. “We’ve usually thrown and run for the same number of yards in most of our games [this season] and we take great pride in that. You’re spreading the defense so you can run the ball and Harry is a major part of what we do offensively.

“He’s a threat and the first thing most teams do when they look at us is focus on No. 24 and figure out where he is and what he does that they have to stop.”

The Falcons’ 2008 offensive shift coincided with Pessy’s first year as a varsity starter. Some in his position might have seen the move to a spread offense from the previous run-based look, one that would have likely featured him as the true focal point, as a reduction of his involvement. But while it might have meant fewer carries for Pessy, the importance of his role wasn’t diminished in the slightest.

“I knew I had my role as running back, protecting the quarterback and then I would get my opportunity to run the ball,” Pessy says. “But I wasn’t looking at it as an opportunity lost for me. It made me go even harder the next time I got the ball.

“We’ve got to keep the defense honest. We run the ball and bring in their linebackers and we’ve got a lot of powerful weapons on this offense, so we’ve got an opportunity to make a really good team.”

Last season, the Falcons were certainly an improved team, winning four more games than they did in 2007 and turning in the program’s first winning season since 2002 with a 9-3 record and a trip to the second round of the CIF Southern Section Southeast Division playoffs.

A 40-9 playoff loss to Charter Oak temporarily put the brakes on the Falcon renaissance, but Pessy says the past campaign was a learning experience that he grew wiser and better for having gone through.

“It really made me see how the game was played at the varsity level, which I think helped me prepare for this year,” says Pessy, who rushed for 678 yards and nine touchdowns while totaling 304 receiving yards with three more touchdowns last year, culminating in All-Pacific League and All-Area first-team selections. “It all comes down to how bad do you want it. What I realized even more this year is how important practice really is.”

This year Pessy is off to another fantastic start. Over the first four games of the season, he averaged just over 110 yards rushing per game and a whopping 10.3 yards per carry. He was particularly strong in nonleague games against St. Francis and La Cañada.

“When you think about how he’s done this year, those are two games that stand out virtually immediately,” Zarrillo says of Pessy, who had a season-high 226 yards rushing with a score in a 38-35 Sept. 25 win over the Spartans one week after helping the Falcons narrow the gap in the normally one-sided rivalry with the Golden Knights, rushing for 145 yards and a pair of touchdowns in a 28-21 loss.

An added plus to Pessy’s game this year has been his versatility.

“I would definitely say his speed is one of his main strengths,” quarterback Kyle Cota, a longtime friend of Pessy’s, says. “But this last year or two, he’s gotten a lot stronger, too. He’s a pretty powerful runner.”

In an offense that looks to confuse and disrupt defenses with multiple-receiver packages, Pessy gives the Falcons yet another layer of depth, even if the call is as simple a run straight up the middle.

“He’s a great downhill runner,” Zarrillo says. “We’ll do some things to try to get him the ball so he can go wide because he has very good speed, but he’s a great straight-ahead, heading-toward-the-goal-line-type of guy. We want to get it to him and let him go in a straight-ahead direction.”

Pessy and the Falcons haven’t gone unchallenged by adversity this year. Their bid for the league title took a big hit in the very first week of league play, as Burbank came into Moyse Field and thoroughly outplayed the Falcons from top to bottom in a 42-14 loss. There was plenty of blame to go around from that loss, but Pessy willingly shouldered the brunt of it.

“I blamed a lot of that game on me,” says Pessy, who was held to 43 yards rushing and fumbled three times, two of which were lost. “I let my team down.”

His teammates saw it differently, but weren’t surprised by his acceptance of responsibility.

“That’s how he is,” safety Andrew Carcich says. “He’s just a good overall leader.”

Says Cota: “It’s a team effort and he understands that. He can bounce back and everybody’s got his back, pretty much. We’re a very close, tight team.”

Pessy was indeed able to put the bad game behind him and bounce back in the team’s win over Glendale the following week.

“You’re gonna have bad games and you’ve gotta have a short memory, forget about it and keep playing,” Pessy says. “[My teammates] look to me and if they see my head hanging they almost lose hope too, but if I keep myself in there, maybe I can turn something around and we can get some momentum going the other way.”

In Friday’s 41-12 win over Hoover, Pessy gained just 23 yards on the ground before sitting out the second half of that blowout with many of the other Falcons starters, but made his four carries count, as two of them went for touchdowns.

Thus far, he’s run for 506 yards in only 50 carries, rushing for eight touchdowns and scoring 10 total. With four games left in the season, the Falcons have plenty of work left to do. But when Pessy is on his game, everything seems to become easier.

“He opens up the field for everyone else and he still has great games, which makes it even better,” Carcich says. “As soon as I’m done playing defense, I just love watching him and watching what he can do. It’s exciting.”

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