This week would be our teams very first experience in the playoffs. This is the pilot season that was shot for the reality television show “Worst to First” I took over an eighth grade team that had won about six games in the last six years in the largest and most competitive league in the Reno/North Nevada area. One of the cameramen asked the kids how they felt about being in the playoffs. One player laughed and responded that he didn’t know, this was the first time he had ever been in them. In the previous six seasons by this time they had already turned in their gear and were looking forward to the banquet.
How do you get ready for a situation like this? First of all we didn’t take any time to dwell on the last game or pat ourselves on the back for making the playoffs, we had to get ready for McQueen. McQueen was one of the leagues bullies, they had mercy ruled our team every time we had played them in the last 6 years. McQueen fed into McQueen High School, which had often times been ranked in the USA Today Top 20 for High School teams. They had a very big and nice stadium at the base of the mountains with fieldturf and lights.
I had met their head coach over several film trades. He had been coaching youth football for more than 10 years, knew his stuff and didn’t have any kids on the team. He was the real deal. They had 32 kids on the team, a full roster, 30 cheerleaders and a whole stadium full of very enthusiastic fans. While we owned the home field advantage, our High School field wasn’t available. The High School we fed into had won just 1 game, their season was over and their field was closed down. We would be the “home” team in their stadium, go figure.
What would we be facing? Another 6-2 team that knew how to win, was confident and classy. They wanted to line up in the Pro I and run the ball, then play action for big plays. They had a huge 6’3” receiver with great feet that they liked to get the ball to along with a big fast and strong Tight End that snagged anything close. They had blown out our team last year thanks in part to 3 touchdown passes to the Tight End.
McQueen would also spread it out in a 2×2 set and they would run some jet and throw off of a 21 personnel shotgun set. Their Quarterback wasn’t really big or fast, but he went through his progressions well and was able to complete the long ball pretty consistently. They were big, physical and had enough speed to make us plenty nervous. They had an outstanding kicking game, they could do it all, punt, PAT and onside kick, something you expect from all well coached teams. This was going to be quite a youth football game.
As always we focused on the fundamentals that week in practice. I spent my defensive indy time with the Defensive Backs and Defensive Ends. That meant some open field tackling drills where we focused on maintaining our inside or outside leverage depending on our positions. We worked than mainly as a fit in order to stay healthy, but did a handful of live reps in all of those drills. I also added a reach block to our tool bag. Our offensive line was really executing well and I thought we could add it this week and be fine. McQueen really liked to pack it in when teams went double tight, we may need that extra blocker on the edge if we reached instead of just sealing with a Wing.
In order to correctly simulate McQueen, we hired several High School kids to run their plays. With all the bubble screens, slant/wheels, jet sweeps and deep play action patterns they ran, we just couldn’t give good looks to the kids and coach at the same time. We would probably be able to slow their run game down, which meant we would probably see a 50/50 run to pass ratio in the game.
While our kids were in fine shape in this first week of November I sold them on the idea we were going to be in better shape than McQueen as we diligently worked on going 11 players in and 11 out on every offensive and defensive team rep. Since we were doing this from 15 yards out, the kids got plenty of conditioning in. We also continued with our “20 things I like about” process with the rest of the players after each practice.
Something I did notice from the film, McQueen had about 32 kids and unlike the other 2 top teams in the league, they had 4-5 smaller kids who looked like they were legitimate minimum player types. This league has an 8 play rule. While those kids weren’t as small as my 66, 76 and 81 pound kids, they weren’t a whole lot bigger and when those kids were on the field, they didn’t bother running near them or throw them a pass. Those kids all got in on offense or special teams and that was going to help us come Saturday.
The next post is going to spell out what happened in the big game, win and we had another week. Lose and that plane trip to Nebraska on Sunday was going to be a one way trip this time. The game would be a nail biter.