HOLLIS — Early in practice Thursday, the Hollis/Brookline High School football team’s offense ran its “tempo” drill, marching up and down the field at a hurry-up pace for a score against an imaginary defense.
The picture was not much different than how the Cavaliers have looked against any opposing defensive unit en route to their first state championship game this fall.
Fifth-seeded Hollis/Brookline (9-2) will meet sixth-seeded and three-time defending champion Plymouth (9-2) in the NHIAA Division II title game Sunday at 2:30 p.m. at the University of New Hampshire’s Wildcat Stadium.
The Cavaliers have outscored their opponents, 450-168, and are averaging 40.9 points per game entering Sunday.
That tempo drill the Cavaliers practiced Thursday was a sample of the pace their offense likes to play with on every down.
“Our kids love to go fast,” sixth-year coach Chris Lones said. “That’s what we do. We get the ball going as quick as the officials allow us to. ... With all the weapons (we have) and you add the speed dynamic, there’s a lot of stress on a defense.”
Hollis/Brookline has scored at least 27 points in every game since its last loss — 20-15 at Pelham on Oct. 5. The week following that defeat, offensive coordinator Shawn Aubut stepped down and left the program and Lones took over the offensive play-calling duties.
Lones moved away from Aubut’s pass-heavy approach and gave more rushing opportunities to players like junior running back Marc-Andre Thermitus and senior quarterback Sander Wimmer. Each has rushed for around 800 yards and Wimmer has run for 16 touchdowns this year.
“I think it (the offense’s success) stems from the fact that we’re very, very balanced,” Thermitus said before Thursday’s practice. “I think before this year, we were more known as a passing team. I think in this win streak we’ve had, we’ve been able to get better and better at running the ball. ... I think that makes us very much harder to stop.”
Thermitus injured his right foot in the Cavaliers’ season-opening loss at Milford and missed three games before returning against Pelham. Once Thermitus returned, Lones said the offense gained another dimension.
“He’s really changed our offense in terms of diversity,” Lones said. “I think that’s where we’ve become more dangerous as the second half of the season has gone on. You can’t key on something.”
If defenses try to shut down the Cavaliers’ run game, Wimmer will drop back and find wide receivers like his twin brother, Quinten, Blake Bergerson, Shea Philbrook, AJ Johnson or Isaiah Velez. All five receivers have posted at least one game with 150 or more receiving yards. Senior Alex Lee has also been a reliable passing option for Sander Wimmer.
Sander Wimmer, who has thrown for 2,725 yards and 28 touchdowns this season, Johnson and Philbrook have played together since elementary school.
Sander Wimmer threw for about 300 yards and four touchdown passes — two each to his brother and Bergerson — in the Cavaliers’ 49-21 quarterfinal win at fourth-seeded Kennett in Conway.
“Every single one of our receivers is just amazing at tracking the ball and getting the ball,” Sander Wimmer said. “It’s hard for teams to have enough defenders to cover each and every one of them because typically at least one of them will be able to beat their man.”
In the semifinals at top-seeded Bow last week, the Cavaliers’ passing game did not enjoy the same success it had against Kennett. Instead, Hollis/Brookline went to the ground game.
The Falcons held Sander Wimmer to fewer than 100 passing yards but he and Thermitus both rushed for more than 100 yards and combined for four touchdowns as the Cavaliers won, 34-14, in Bow. The Falcons had held all but two opponents to seven or fewer points and earned five shutout wins before that semifinal matchup.
“That’s what’s made us very difficult for defensive coordinators — there’s so many things you have to look out for,” Lones said. “You add all those pieces and it makes it really difficult for defenses to slow something like that down.”
Thermitus and Sander Wimmer have had time to make dynamic plays in the backfield thanks to their teammates on the offensive line. Left tackle John Rutledge, left guard Austin Etchells, center Quinn Connors, right guard Adam Slater and right tackle Sal Fabbio have started every game this season.
“I think they’re really good at knowing what to do and just making the plays that they have to do to give Sander enough time and Marc enough time to make his cuts up the middle,” Bergerson said.
Hollis/Brookline will try to utilize its up-tempo style and multitude of offensive weapons Sunday to overwhelm Plymouth, which has allowed 20 or fewer points in every game.
“They’re much like Bow — very physical,” Thermitus said of the Bobcats. “They try to bully and win the line of scrimmage, win time of possession and all that. I expect us to play like we did against Bow — make them think, switch it up, try to see what we can and can’t do. And when we find what we can do, try to use that to win the game.”