Empowering Coaches Step-By-Step

Playoff Test- Responding to the Punch in the Mouth in Youth Football

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This was going to be a big test for our youth football team who had never had a winning season, let alone played in the playoffs. The kids appeared loose and our pre-game walk-throughs and alignments went well. How would we respond when the bully team punched us in the mouth? How would we respond to a team that had mercy ruled our team for 6 straight seasons? That was the question.

It didn’t start off well, we received and promptly bobbled the snap on the second play of the series which ended up putting us in a 4th and 7 from our own 45. This team had scouted us heavily, so the fake punt was out. We boomed it down to their 10. On defense we nearly got them for a safety on a 3rd and long reverse and got the ball back at the 50, yes they had a good kicker too.

On the second drive we sputtered a bit out of our base, but managed a first down on a 4th and short. On first down we spread them out and went weak side jet sweep and scored. McQueen was trying to take away our base inside running game, squeezing everything down.

We got the onside kick back and promptly drove it down to the 6 yard line. Another bobbled snap ended up in a turnover and we squandered a golden opportunity to take a 2 score lead. Our kids were a little tight, but playing hard. McQueen came out in their second drive trying to pound the rock with their Pro I formation run game. They got some breathing room thanks to a big catch by their speedy 6’3” receiver. Then they spread us out and passed themselves inside our 5 before taking it in on a run. They hit their kick and it’s now 8-6 them.  Big swing of events. I stayed positive and encouraging.

On the ensuing drive we went Spread Single Wing for the entire drive. It was a 60 yard drive on 13 plays, scoring on the jet power keep. Now it’s 13-8 us.

We just miss covering the onside kick, hold them to 3 and out, but they boom another 60 yard punt. The important pickup was we found when they were running the ball, they would split out an MPR at Flanker and another at Split End. When they were going to throw or run wide, they usually had their starters in, they hadn’t showed that much in the film we had watched.  We drive it 70 yards in 14 plays with about 70% Spread Single Wing, the rest base. The big play was a jet counter. It’s 20-8 us.

They go back to their Pro I and hit the big kid on another deep play action route, right in front of our Corner. When they spread it out we were getting a lot of pressure with our front 5-6. So they went to 1 tight end and 2 split backs in gun. The 2 backs would stay in for pass protection and that seemed to work for them. They scored and made their PAT kick to make it 20-16.

They kicked it deep and we score in one play to make it 27-16. At this point we are feeling pretty good. They go into their 2×2 set and we move into quarters coverage to take the deep ball away. With just 30 seconds left before the half, they hit the big kid seemingly in a crowd of 3 of our kids and score a heartbreaker right before half from about 35 yards out. Score is now 27-24 us and they will be taking the second half kickoff with the momentum.

Our halftime was pretty tense, several of our coaches were right on the edge, trying to give that inspirational boost to the team. They were reaching, they were fearful of losing.  I stepped in and calmly talked about what we would do. When we saw the MPRs in we would go to Monster with the extra run support from our M back. I told the Corners to totally ignore the MPRs and move up from 8 to 5 yards to play the run.

When they went Spread and the big guy was split out to one side, we split our Defensive End to that side with him. The Defensive End was a very smart kid who we could trust. His job was to disrupt the big kid off the line of scrimmage for 3-4 yards, then get into his zone. We played our better Corner to that side and played full Cover 3, not Monster when they had the better kids in at Receiver.  That meant we would move one of our Linebackers to Safety and the M to Linebacker. The Linebacker to Safety kid had played DB for us and was better in coverage. The M was in just his second year of football.

All week we had practiced getting hands on the Tight End on the opposite side on every play as well as getting our Linebacker to that side to collision on pass reads. We were doing that well, no catches for him so far, with the exception of a short arrow pattern. I asked the kids to focus on protecting the football, staying focused and just playing hard. I let them know about the tells McQueen was giving us and that this would be what would put us over the top. We also practiced the best play in football- the kneel down. This was because a team on TV that day had fumbled a kneel down and lost the game, I was preparing our kids for the win. The ploy was more mental imagery than anything else.

As we expected they came out in Spread and we shut them down. Now I was taking our time a bit, I was in no hurry to help them get their MPRs their 8 snaps. We went Spread Single Wing and attacked the edges, then came back with the counters and wedges to drive it 65 yards for the score in 11 plays to make it 34-24.

This time they drove it 60 yards for a score. The big play was on off tackle run that was cut back right into the teeth of our defense. We had 5-6 kids with at least one hand on the runner, but we couldn’t make the tackle. Our kids were trying so hard they had over run the play. The good news was we had slowed down their passing game, the bad news is now it was now 34-31.

We take the ball and drive it to their 30 but get called for a legit holding call and we stall out without scoring. They in turn spread it out but we have the big kid bracketed and we get an interception near midfield.

This drive would be it. McQueen had so much confidence in beating this team so often, they were going to go right down and take the game from our kids if we didn’t score now. MCQueen had now added some speed at the Outside Backer spots and had everyone within 4 yards of the line of scrimmage. The Spread stuff wasn’t to be had. We got the ball at our 45 with 9:12 left. We took all but 1:08 off the clock by running various Power plays, every formation and blocking scheme we had for Power- On, Level, Hit was used along with a  few 14 Wham style plays and a couple of wedge plays. No sweeps, just 1 counter and we scored to take a very emotional 41-30 lead, Our kids and crowd went bonkers when we scored.

The team had taken on my personality a bit as the season progressed and we didn’t celebrate after scores, this one was different. Lots of fist pumping and jumping around after this one. We wrapped things up with a quick interception and ran the clock out using the best play in football, something we had practiced earlier that night.

I was so proud of this youth football team and even our coaching staff. The guy who I had the most problems with was my designated MPR scout and told me every time they sent any in, which in turn determined which defense we would be in. He had done an excellent job.

The tough part now, get past the jubilation of this hard fought win and try and win the whole thing.

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