Saturday, September 6, 2008

Reconsider Strategy: Accurate High School Quarterbacks in Short Supply

One play by Danny Tuai was enough to make the difference for East High on Friday night. After struggling for most of the game and even leaving the game at one point (unclear whether he was benched or injured), Danny was finally able to hit a receiver in stride in what was, in reality, a last gasp heave with under two minutes left in the game and trailing 10-7. While the American Fork Cavemen did him a huge favor by failing to cover Matt Price on the play, Tuai nonetheless deserves the credit for doing what he was unable to do for most of the night—deliver an accurate pass.

The victorious outcome should not, however, encourage the East High coaches to keep calling so many pass plays. After both East and American Fork started the first quarter with successful, run-dominated drives which led to a 7-7 tie, both teams seemed to treat the rest of the first half as a passing experiment. (Pssst: There’s a game going on—see if maybe you can win it…) In spite of some great catches by Senior Captain John Webb, the East High passing game failed to produce anything but punts and interceptions in the first half. After a Caveman interception by Mitch Harrison, a Tuai pass to an offensive lineman, and a dropped interception by #8 of American Fork, which would have been an easy touchdown, I was seriously asking: Where’s the run game?

Not that the Cavemen passing was much better. (Plus, is there a more appropriate nick-name for a run-oriented team? I say no.) American Fork’s only touchdown did come on a pass to Spencer Maglebee, but it was also the result of a blown coverage that left #46 wide open after East failed to get to the Caveman quarterback on an all-out blitz.

As if I myself were in the locker-room at half-time, both teams brilliantly came out pounding the ball. Six run plays in a row led to a Cavemen field-goal. East answered with a 15-play drive that included 12 runs. On one pass, Tuai completed a simple slant. On another, he missed a wide-open Ryan Shipp. Even though the drive resulted in no points, I felt changing strategy to a variety of runs and simple pass plays gave the Leopards a good chance of winning the game.

The next Cavemen drive ended after a 2nd-and-8 pass attempt resulted in a sack and a 12-yard loss. After the last successful, run-dominated drive, why pass? Two running plays had a much better chance of picking up the first down. East answered right back by throwing an interception, this one by Tuai’s short-lived replacement.

With the ball on the East High 18-yard-line and a 3-point lead, American Fork seemed to have the game wrapped up with 6:40 to play in the fourth quarter. Common sense clearly pointed towards three run plays to run down the clock, if not score a touchdown or field goal. But what do the Cavemen do? They abandon the run after losing 3 yards on the first play. A third-down complete pass brought them to the 16-yard-line, but instead of attempting a field-goal, the Cavemen call a fake, which (surprise, surprise) doesn’t work.
This set the stage for Danny Tuai’s heroics. Before the game-clinching pass, East’s 10-play drive actually included 3 called runs, 2 QB scrambles and one high-percentage out-route. The clock was ticking and East had barely crossed mid-field when they called a time-out with 1:42 left in the game. Two plays later, Matt Price was inexplicably left wide-open and Danny Tuai amazingly put the ball in his hands. “The encounter was a victory, but I think I’ve shown it as an example of what not to do.”

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