Sports

Hurricane Florence forces high school football teams to adjust to short schedule

Leesville Road’s David Sohn (1)  lifts and tackles Garner Magnet’s Darius Boone. The Leesville Road Pride and the Garner Trojans met in a non-conference football game in Raleigh, N.C. on September 12, 2018. Leesville Road won 26-24.
Leesville Road’s David Sohn (1) lifts and tackles Garner Magnet’s Darius Boone. The Leesville Road Pride and the Garner Trojans met in a non-conference football game in Raleigh, N.C. on September 12, 2018. Leesville Road won 26-24. newsobserver.com

Last Friday Thurman Leach loaded his team on a bus, traveled two hours south to Wilmington and took on defending 4A state champion New Hanover.

A little closer to home, Chad Smothers and his Leesville Road team stayed in Wake County, and went to Wake Forest for a showdown with the defending 4AA state champs, the Wake Forest Cougars.

Both teams suffered road loses against defending state champions, and how were they rewarded? By playing another game five days later.

Because of Hurricane Florence, many games in this part of the state were bumped up two days to avoid a Friday washout.

Garner and Leesville was one of many games across the Triangle where teams had to get back on the field after a short week. During a regular game week, Wednesday is the day when you are really getting into the meat of your game plan. Instead, at 6 p.m. the Pride and Trojans were kicking off to play an actual game So much for recovery time.

“Playing a game like Friday took a lot out of us,” Leach said after his team fell to Leesville, 26-24. “Getting on buses, driving two hours, then that quick turnaround, and then sometimes it takes the kids a while to get rejuvenated because they (use) so much energy. It was taxing, it was grueling.”

Both coaches admitted the first half was sluggish, with Garner leading 2-0 after the first quarter. Leach said the quarter resembled a practice, which is fitting since that’s what both teams should have been doing. Smothers said the humidity at a 6 p.m. kickoff didn’t help.

Leach said Wednesday is usually the day they are working on game tempo and polishing things up. None of the teams in the area had that luxury this week.

“We didn’t get a chance to see what looked good and what didn’t look good,” Leach said. “It’s very tough.”

Smothers barely got a chance to look at film on Garner and install a proper game plan because they had to accelerate their weekly schedule. He held a regular practice on Monday -- full pads -- and Tuesday, but cut back the practice time the day before the game.

With such limited time, Smothers decided the easiest thing to do was to keep the game plan simple.

“You have to go with your base defense, base offense and just try to do your stuff better than they can defend it, and try to defend them better than they can run their stuff,” Smothers said. “Everything was pretty straight forward in these type of games because you don’t have that much time.”

Typically, Smothers meets with his coaching staff on Sunday to get a game plan started on the next opponent. They start installing the game plan in stages on Monday and Tuesday, and by Wednesday it’s complete and teams are ready to go. A regular week also gives the staff time to coach up the reserves in case they are thrust into action due to injuries or fatigue, but the practice reps just weren’t there this time around because of the tight schedule.

“It’s one of those deals, you have to practice, you just can’t come out and walk through,” Smothers said.

Coming off contest against physical teams like Wake Forest and New Hanover didn’t help, and the Pride have to bounce back for the next game of their brutal September schedule, hosting Cardinal Gibbons next week. Garner will host Rolesville, and perhaps the one bright side of playing early is it will give all the area teams extra days of rest before taking the field again. Leach knows they all need it.

“It’s tough on these young men, my hats off to them for just coming out here and competing,” Leach said. “We were banged up Friday night and I’m sure they were banged up too.”

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