As luck would have it, during the bye week the team we were playing in our last regular season game in order to make the playoffs was playing what we thought would probably be the three seed in this 13 team league. I got to scout both teams at once on a very cold and windy November night. This is the pilot season that was shot for the reality television show “Worst to First” I took an eighth 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.
I fully expected the three seed McQueen to win this one against Fallon and maybe even going away. McQueen was a perennial youth football power. They fed into McQueen High School which had in the past been a national power, appearing in the USA Today High School Nationwide top 20. This program was a blue blood football power and their youth teams were always top notch. They played at a beautiful huge stadium up in the hills overlooking Reno and had a new fieldturf field. I didn’t know much about Fallon other than they were 5-1 coming into this game and had beaten our kids the year before as seventh graders.
The game was much different than I had imagined. Fallon came out on fire and dominated the first quarter. They were a 50/50 run/pass mix and they had very good speed in the backfield. The Quarterback was solid, could scramble a bit and they had a very fast and shifty slot, that was causing McQueen issues. Fallon got an onside kick back and they never missed on the two point PAT kicks.
In the second quarter just as McQueen started to exert their control, this fast slot from Fallon scored a touchdown on a deep post wheel combination route from about 40 yards out on the last play of the half. Fallon led by 8 points at the half. Fallon had speed and could throw the ball and space wasn’t our teams friend, this wasn’t looking good for us. I didn’t want Fallon to win this one and come into our game with a bunch of momentum and confidence. At the half, Fallon looked like the better team.
Fallon only suited up 20 kids, they had 3 who were on the sidelines with no pads on. McQueen had 32 kids dressed and that ended up playing a part in this game. In the third quarter it went back and forth, but in the fourth quarter McQueen pulled away thanks to a solid running game a very nice play action passing game with a 6’ 3” receiver and some very solid special teams play. McQueen’s coach was one of those guys whose been around forever, well past when his sons played. McQueen didn’t panic, their quality youth football coaching shone through and they found a way to win.
This weeks practice was going to be all about defense. Our offense was averaging right at about 40 points a game and we had even moved the ball consistently against the best team in the league. We had to get better at pursuit, tackling and defending the pass. We would add in a couple of stunts using our Monster back who last year had played Defensive Tackle and was the leading sack master on the team. While I’m not a big fan of blitzing, because we have a fundamentally sound defense that doesn’t require big plays to be successful, I wanted something in the tool kit to develop pressure on the Quarterback if we were struggling to defend the pass.
We had some fun in our bye week, now it was time to get back to work with purpose. Our entire season would be riding on this weeks game. Tuesday would be 60 minutes of defensive indys, 20 minutes of defensive group and 40 minutes of team defense- primarily defensive recognition and team pursuit. Wednesday was 40 minutes of offensive indys, 20 minutes of offensive group, 30 minutes of team offense fit and freeze and 30 minutes of special teams. Thursday was 40 minutes of defensive indys, 10 minutes of defensive group, 40 minutes of defensive team defensive recognition, 15 minutes of team offense- fit and freeze and 15 minutes of special teams. We worked on our PAT block, this game could come down to that. We installed both a middle stunt block and an overload edge block.
This weeks practice went well, we had one let down day on Wednesday where we lost focus a bit. We reeled that back in with some jump up 20 sprints. The kids got that this was not the time to lower our standards, you run 100% of the time on the field in practice or we run after practice, always your choice. But this time we did some running in the middle of practice, point made. We continued with the nightly what I like about player X sessions and stressing how important it was to play for each other. Progress was being made on that front, we really came together strong in that bye week.
The good news was we had everyone back healthy, the bad news was my starting Center cut his hand badly requiring seven stiches, he wouldn’t be able to play in Saturdays game. While he had it taped up and wanted to play, we just couldn’t risk it. He was one of our most responsible and hard working kids, so we would work around it and he would be a team captain this week. While we did have everyone back, our now back starting Quarterback got hurt during an open field tackling drill and couldn’t practice in pads or run much on Wednesday and Thursday. This was the same player who I felt had laid down on us early in the season. While I felt we could make it work on offense, on defense we just didn’t have anyone to replace him. In the end I felt he would probably recover at game time like he always did and I was right.
I acted like losing our Center wasn’t any big deal in front of the kids, but it was. Thankfully we had prepared a second player to play Center. Every practice during our rule blocking fits and in team, the second teamer had gotten some snaps. The second teamer was our first team Right Tackle on offense, so that created a bit of a domino effect. I made sure to get the new starter plenty of snaps and prepared a third teamer just in case. In any offense the Center is important, but in our short shotgun offense where we snap to three different players, his job is critical.