How did our team play in game one? How would we respond when we got hit in the mouth? This is the continuing story of my “Worst to First” youth football coaching experience in Reno, Nevada this year. I took an 8th grade team that had won about 6 games in the last 6 years to the Semi-Finals in the largest and most competitive league in the Reno/North Nevada. We never really found out what it was like to be hit in the mouth. When you are coaching youth football, you can’t pick your opponents, you play who they tell you to. Our team came out fast, aligned perfectly and executed just like we were playing against coaches with shields. We played well, but it wasn’t anything to get ecstatic over. We beat a weak team with subpar coaching going away.
We won the toss and as always, asked for the ball. I practiced the coin flip with our captains, we went through it three times so there wouldn’t be any issues. After returning a deep kick to the 50, we scored on a three play drive that took less than 60 seconds. Running no-huddle rapid pace when you execute well can be a real bear to defend, especially early in the season.
After a failed onside kick, we held them to three and out on defense. They ran power, speed option and the expected counter on third down and had to punt. We drove the ball to their 20 on a 6 play drive, then our Blocking Back failed to field what looked like a reasonable but not great snap and we lost the ball.
On their second possession, they got in trouble early on the bootleg waggle pass and lost 10 yards. One of the things our style of defense does extremely well is stop counters and reverses. After another three and out, we got the ball at their 40. Right now we were just running our base 6-7 plays with a few adjustments. We scored in two plays and were able to get a very well executed onside kick back. As Carson moved to a 5-2 Monster style look and crowded the line of scrimmage with their Corners and Safety in tight, I called a spinner counter play with an outside tag calling for a log block and we scored in one play. We had scored two touchdowns in the span of about 20 seconds.
Our sidelines and stands were going nuts. They had never scored points like this and of course they had never mercy ruled anyone. Now as the first quarter came to a close, we were up 20-0. Our kids were on fire, the defense couldn’t wait to get on the field and was playing with a lot of confidence. After another three and out we got the ball back at our own 30 and scored in five plays, which took less than two minutes off the clock. At this point, we are peppering in some of the non-starters on offense and subbing out about half the starters on defense.
Carson gets desperate and runs a double reverse, that ends up on the ground, which we recover. The big 300 lb kid from Carson was now out on defense, we had gassed him. We score in 3 plays off an inside wham play with a nice counter fake behind. There was blood in the water and our kids were acting like hungry sharks. We called timeout and subbed the entire defense out, which allowed Carson to score. We scored on all of the ensuing offensive possessions and were holding our own on defense. At halftime the score was 42-6 and we had the ball at their 10 as we graciously chose not to run another play with 20 seconds left in the half with our third team Quarterback at the helm.
At halftime the kids were giddy, like a bunch of 9 year old girls at a slumber party. I congratulated them on their effort and talked about what we did right and wrong and our goals for the second half. They were: no penalties, no turnovers and great effort. I talked about gaining momentum for game two, by finishing strong in game one, to not get sloppy. That happens a lot in blowout wins.
The second half was played under a running clock. We started our second team defense and Carson scored to make it 42-14. The first team offense started the second half and promptly scored as we expanded the playbook and threw three passes in the first drive, completing two of them. The second team defense played most of the second half after we got some of the starters reps at their secondary positions. Remember, we were very thin at the skill positions so everyone had a primary and secondary position on both sides of the ball. In the second half, our backups got a lot more playing time than the starters.
The final was 54-20 and it could have been much worse. We had 5 different kids score touchdowns and 11 different kids carry the ball. On the negative side, we had 1 fumble, 3 bobbled snaps and an interception. We never punted, scored on every possession we didn’t turn it over on and the first team defense only gave up 2 first downs. We got 2 turnovers and had 4 penalties against us. While we hadn’t hit all of our goals, it was a good way to start the season.
In the post-game I congratulated them, but didn’t show a lot of emotion. I let them know I was proud of their effort, but that the team we played wasn’t very good. We had a lot of work to do and this was just the first step. How prophetic those words would be in what happened in week two, a youth football coaching nightmare.