Football coaching etiquette changes with fast scoring offenses

tstevens@newsobserver.comSeptember 17, 2013 

  • Just A look at some area comebacks this year

    Heritage built a 41-14 fourth-quarter lead, but East Wake scored three touchdowns during the final three minutes to close to within 41-35.

    Clayton led Smithfield-Selma 30-3 at the half, but Smithfield-Selma showed some spunk in closing to within 37-23.

    Southern Alamance scored 23 points during the fourth quarter of a 45-23 win against East Chapel Hill.

    Cleveland trailed Garner by 24 points during the third period before rallying for a 45-44 win.

— The ability of high school football teams to score quickly is changing coaching etiquette and the way games are played.

A few years ago, coaches often pulled their starters with a three- or four-touchdown lead late in the third or early in the fourth quarter. Many times the starters were taken out of the game after one offensive series in the second half if a team was leading by four or five touchdowns.

Substitute at your own peril now.

“Conventional coaching wisdom has flown out of the window,” said Cardinal Gibbons coach Stephen Wright. “Teams can score so quickly. I don’t know if there is a safe lead.”

Last week, Cardinal Gibbons led Broughton 27-0 during the third period but trailed the Caps 28-27 in the fourth period. The Crusaders escaped with a 35-28 victory.

But Cardinal Gibbons isn’t the only team to watch a lead disappear quickly.

Coaches used to agree to run the clock without interruption in the second half of lopsided games, but that is rare now.

“It was unreal,” recalled Garner runner Nyheim Hines. “We’re up 31-7 and everything looks good and then I look at the scoreboard and its 38-31. It happened so fast.”

The ability of teams to come back quickly adds a new twist to coaching strategy.

“The hard thing sometimes is you try to slow the game down, and the kids slow down,” Heritage coach Jason McGeorge said. “We kind of relaxed. Then when you have to get back in it, you really have to turn it back on. It’s difficult.”

Many of the rallies are fueled by passing games.

A 300-yard passing game used to be remarkable, but last Friday night four area players exceeded 300 yards and two others topped 280. Shawn Stankavage of Cardinal Gibbons passed for 434 yards.

Stankavage’s total would have been a state record during 1981 and still would have been among the top five in 1992. Now, it takes 455 yards in a game to break onto the all-time top 20.

Wakefield’s graduated Connor Mitch has the top three passing marks with 667- , 605- and 604-yard games. Mitch’s 605- and 604-yard games came in losses.

“What you are seeing is that teams are usually the entire field,” Cardinal Gibbons’ Wright said. “They spread you out and get the ball to someone with space to move. If you miss one tackle, they can go 60 yards.”

But teams don’t have to get their points through the air.

Garner leads Cleveland in total offense, 443.7 yards per game to 443.3. Leesville Road (440), Pittsboro Northwood (435) and East Wake (422) also are more than 400 yards per game.

“On one hand, the games can be exciting,” Wright said. “There are five or six guys on every offense who know that they may have the chance to make a big play.

“But the way teams score now really puts pressure on you to keep scoring and keep stopping the other team. Parents have to realize that. You get an email that you didn’t play their son in a 28-7 win. You can’t really substitute as early as you used to.”

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