Game two against the defending Sierra Youth Football League champions turned out to be exactly the game I feared it would be. However, it also revealed the path we would need to take to make it to the league championship. While we lost the game, how we lost it gave me hope. This is the continuing story of my “Worst to First” youth football coaching experience in Reno, Nevada this year. This is the pilot season that was shot for the reality television show “Worst to First” I took an 8th grade team that had won about six games in the last six years to the Semi-Finals in the largest and most competitive league in the Reno/North Nevada area
In pre-game our kids appeared confident, but a little nervous. Those wide eyed first game smiles were now serious looks as a large crowd was on hand for our first home game. There was a little hope in the air. Our team had won their first week one game in six years by a score of 54-20 and were now playing the defending league champion at home. There hadn’t been a lot to cheer for locally, the High School team was on a 30 game losing streak and the JV hadn’t won a game. Heck, we didn’t even have cheerleaders, the only team in the league without a cheer squad.
We got some bad news in pre-game, one of our starting Linebackers and backup Fullback was “nauseas” and wouldn’t be able to play. As was the case with about 15% of our practices so far, mom held him out if he had a sniffle or 99 degree temperature. Amazingly he did a stellar job running back and forth as the games ball boy all game.
We received and promptly had the ball stripped on our very first play from scrimmage. Defensively we held after giving up two first downs, thankfully Galena was trying to run the ball out of their various “I” formation derivatives. Just like in practice we had squeezed down their off-tackle, contained their outside game and stuffed their counters and bootlegs. We promptly went max slowdown from our own 20, taking every tick we could off the clock and drove the field to Galena’s 25. On a crucial third and five play our Center snapped the ball into the Blocking Backs facemask and gave the ball up.
Galena stuck to their power run game while mixing in some Veer and Speed option. We struggled a bit on the option as our replacement Linebacker had played on the line the previous year. He was a great kid, gave his all, but he was slow and had poor body control. He overcompensates for his lack of speed by overpursuing and was very vulnerable to the cut back, his body control was terrible. We gave up some ground but were able to hold and fielded a punt near our one. We promptly gave up a safety due to our Wingback taking a poor angle on the Counter, which made him scrape the Quarterbacks shoulder.
So with about nine minutes to go in the first half, the score Is 2-0. We were in the game, holding our own on defense and moving the ball pretty consistently on offense. I was cautiously optimistic. After we kicked off from our own 20 Galena took over on our 35 and went to a Spread set. On the first play from scrimmage they hit their tall wideout on a post pattern in the endzone right in-between my best two defenders. Galena hits the kick and it’s 10-0.
On the ensuing kickoff they drop a deep directional kick down to our one yard line, which we struggle to field and several of their thoroughbreds tackle my best return man on our six. We continue to move the ball via the run game 3-4 yards an attempt. By this time I had to sub several of my starting backs out to catch a breather. With my backup Fullback out, I couldn’t use my regular rotation and had to put a third team Blocking Back in.
The best play on a second and four was a spinner blocking back wedge, which he subsequently fumbled. It wasn’t a bad snap, but it wasn’t perfect and he fumbled it. Galena scores in one play on the Veer option, the Quarterback kept and cut back as we overran the play. They make the kick and it’s 18-0 and going to turn from bad to worse.
We start out on our own 30 and on the first play of that series, we attempt to throw a play action pass. The pattern isn’t there, the Quarterback gets stripped of the ball and while he was part of the scramble for the loose ball and didn’t appear to have taken a hit, he takes himself out of the game and complains of a headache. I would have him sit and get with our trainer at the half to see what was up. Our Quarterback was also a starting Linebacker, so now we had to sub in someone for him at Linebacker. The problem was the backup Linebacker was already in and the next backup was our Monster and the backup to the Monster was the player who was out “sick”.
This team could throw and the next option I had of taking one of the Corners and moving to Linebacker and subbing in a MPR at Corner. My best option was a 76 lb player who was always 0-10 in open field tackling drills OR a 100 lb player who was deathly afraid of contact. If I put either of those players at Corner, it was going to be an immediate touchdown as Galena had torched my two best kids in the previous drive. They had three big athletic Receivers and an accurate Quarterback. All I could do was play musical chairs. Our best option was to take our most mobile Defensive End who had not played Linebacker for us to date and put him at Linebacker. He was slow but always played hard. The replacement at Defensive End was even slower who had no chance defending the option, but a hard nosed kid that I really liked. That was the best we could do.
Galena quickly spotted our weakness and scored on a play action play to our new Linebackers side with their H back slipped under the Defensive end. The Corner was cleared on a Corner pattern and now it was 24-0. What was going to happen now? This team had been beaten badly for six years, we were short handed and getting beaten badly, would they fold?
We got the ball at our own 10 with just over 5 minutes to go in the half. Missing our first team Quarterback and playing our third team Blocking Back about half the series, we drive it all the way down to the Galena one. Galena was getting frustrated with us, they didn’t expect us to keep fighting. They were penalized twice for unsportsmanlike conduct in that first half. On the last two plays of the half we get stuffed on a wedge play and a subsequent spinner sweep play. Galena’s players and fans celebrated like they had just won the Super Bowl.
The entire game I had been very positive. At the half we talked about how well we had moved the ball, to keep our hands on the ball and keep playing hard. Our kids were angry, they knew they could play better and they weren’t happy about all the chirping and cheap shots by Galena. I liked what I saw and let them know I was proud of the effort. As to our injured player, it didn’t matter what our trainer came up with for a diagnosis, the player made it known to him that he had no interest in returning to the game. Was his injury serious enough to make him sit out? I don’t know, it wouldn’t have mattered.
We started the game off with an onside kick, recovered and scored on a drive from the 50. Galena went Spread with two backs and even Empty and exploited our weaknesses to score right away on a Quarterback scramble. We answered with another long drive of our own. But it wasn’t enough, another drive of ours culminated in another bad snap fumble at Galenas 10 yard line. As a topper we had a nice counter play go for a touchdown that called back due to a targeting call. It was a good call by the way.
What I did like is, even with all the mistakes losing 48-14 and with Galena being called for FIVE unsportsmanlike penalties, our kids never game up. They were disappointed but didn’t lose their composure and fought to the last second of the game. Galena had kept their stud defensive starters in the whole game, they were clearly upset that we dared score on them and not lay down.
To their credit the Galena coaches apologized for their kids behavior and all was forgiven. But this was a team we wanted to play again. Next week some major changes were going to be put in place and there were going to be some very unhappy people. Some good lessons any you can use if you are coaching youth football in 2015.