Monday, September 11, 2006

Friday Night (Dim) Lights

I spent Friday evening watching a high school football game, a benefit of spending the weekend as the Official Limousine Service to The Sole Heir. The plays aren’t real sharp, the stands have maybe a thousand people total, but it’s a relaxing, small-town way to spend an evening while waiting for the Sole Heir to conclude her social obligations.

This week’s game, between Sole Heir High School and Other High School, had some features that make high school games memorable, so long as you don’t take them too seriously, or go too often. I’ve gotten used to the idea that none of these kids can tackle a bag of laundry hanging from a pole; you don’t too often get to see a false start penalty when your team is taking a knee, either.

The kids’ foibles are nothing compared to watching the adults muck things up. Friday’s game contained two record-setting gaffs.

We’ll start with the zebras. SHHS, well into their only sustained drive of the evening, had fourth and less than a yard on the OHS 37. (I know this to be true, since it was right in front of me.) The SHHS coach eschewed a measurement and went for it. The referee signaled first down and the head linesman had the chain gang move the sticks up the field.

But wait! The OHS coach thinks they’re short and demands a measurement. As Nick Saban has learned, there’s a time to ask for everything during a football game; after the sticks have been moved is not the time to ask for a measurement. The officials, having learned nothing about the timeliness of challenges from the previous night’s Steelers-Dolphins game (another glorious victory for the Official Football Team of The Home Office), moved the sticks back to pretty much where they thought they were originally, and measured. Lo and behold, SHHS was short and lost the ball on downs.

I’m not a big fan of the SHHS coach, but he gets props for restraint. I would have had light streaming out of my eyes like the climactic scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark if that call had gone against me.

No big deal; SHHS scored on their next two possessions and took a 21-14 lead. The game played out until SHHS punted the ball out of bounds at the OHS 15 yard line with about two minutes to play.

A penalty, an incomplete pass, a sack, and a short scramble by the quarterback left OHS with fourth down and 16 yards to go, inside their own 10 yard line, 1:30 left on the clock, and no time outs.

What do you call? Sixteen yards is fur piece. Throw deep? A trick play, maybe a hook-and-ladder to try to eat up a large chunk of ground? Possibly a screen pass to take advantage of what figures to be an aggressive pass rush and a spread-out secondary.

The OHS coach’s answer: punt. Honest to God. Of course, the SHHS players avoided the ball like it was smeared with the AIDS virus, then took a knee three times and the game was over. This not only gives the OHS coach The Home Office award for the dumbest coaching decision ever seen, it retired the award. No one’s going to top this, short of pulling the team off the field and forfeiting a game in which you have a lead.

Coaching is teaching. I don’t know if the OHS coach meant to teach his kids how to lose gracefully, but he’s sure teaching them new and exciting ways to lose.

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