This weekend, Pulaski Academy of Little Rock, Ark. had the chance to demonstrate the virtues of its unorthodox, all-or-nothing brand of football on a nationally promoted stage, versus powerhouse Chaminade Prep in their homeland of California.
Results were mixed.
Late in the 4th quarter, the Bruins faced a 4th down and 14 on their own 25 yard line, holding a 39-35 lead. In a situation where every other team in America would punt the ball away, Pulaski did not. The team that has punted less that five times in the last five seasons would go boldly for the first down, as they always do.
Quarterback Lawson Vassar, who operates with the demeanor of a Kayaker taking a morning glide across an Ozark lake, calmly dropped back to pass. But the quick, bruising Chaminade line dropped him for an easy sack, giving Chaminade the ball in Bruins territory.
A penalty nullified an Eagles touchdown run, but the flip in field position would tell the tale. Chaminade would score twice in the final minutes on a long pass and a pick-six, winning 49-39.
The Geek is not here to criticize Pulaski Academy or their innovative head coach, Kevin Kelley, for the system that brought them the 2011 Arkansas 4A state championship. The Bruins recovered two of their trademark onside kicks during the game, and several of their scoring drives were aided by 4th down conversions. If not for the Bruins' aggressiveness, perhaps they would not have taken a lead into the final frame.
However, like any science, football yields to objective logic, not dogmatic stubbornness to any one tactic. Kelley believes that going for it on 4th down is an underrated statistical advantage in most situations. That belief has been backed up with hard data from accomplished mathematicians. However, the concept that it's usually advantageous to go for it should not be confused with the idea that it's always the right decision.
A forty-yard net punt would have put Chaminade on their own 35 yard line, worse field position than they had enjoyed after any Pulaski score during the game. With less than 4:00 to go, the home-standing Eagles would not have had multiple chances to score, and certainly wouldn't have been kneeling down with a ten-point lead to end the contest.
The point is not that Pulaski Academy should start punting in ordinary punting scenarios. But, they should consider punting when a punt clearly gives you the best chance to win, namely on a 4th-and-forever deep in your own territory, with a four-point lead and time running out.
Pulaski's tactics are supposedly not based on attitude. Ask Kelley about his unorthodox decisions and rather than respond with a muscle-flexing pep talk, he is likely to break out a laptop computer and start crunching numbers. But it is hard to believe that any mathematics are available that would tell us the 4th-and-14 decision was the "percentage" play, with the game almost over and only a slim chance of converting against a fierce pass rush.
If Kelley's intentions are to always make the most statistically astute decision, and not simply to prove a point, he should consider keeping a punter around for situations exactly like he faced at Chaminade on Friday. Keeping the offense on the field, when it clearly gives your team a disadvantage to do so, is just as bad as punting the ball when you shouldn't.
Elsewhere in the World of Teenage Handegg
Gonzaga (Wash. DC) College High School shares its name with the most famous modern underdog in college basketball, but the oldest high school in the national's capital (founded 1821) is making a name for itself on the gridiron.
The 2-0 Eagles began their season early, beating Coolidge 35-0, and followed it up with a neutral-site win over strong McDonogh Prep in a game played at beautiful Maryland University. Watch out for 6'1" Defensive Back Devin Butler, who had six interceptions last season as a junior.
The Clariton (Penn.) Bears barely held on to their 48-games-and-counting win streak with a 22-20 squeaker over the hosting Chartiers-Houston Buccaneers on Friday night. The three-peat reigning Pennsylvania state champions also play in the coolest-named conference ever, the "Black Hills A Division."
The Bears can match or overtake a state record 59 straight wins with another undefeated title run in 2012, a record currently held by Central Bucks West of Doylestown, Penn. for their streak between 1997-and-2000.
CBS Sports' Maxpreps.com lists Santa Margarita, Calif. as the No. 1 ranked high school team in America. Since there is absolutely no scientific method to national rankings in prep football, and no national playoffs, these rankings are to be taken with a good dose of seasoned salt.
However, coach Harry Welsh's Eagles have lived up to their billing so far in 2012, beating Brophy College Prep of Phoenix, Ariz. in last week's season opener, then following it up with a 35-6 demolition of Jordan (Calif.) High School on Friday night.
For Dear Old...
The Geek is sad to report that his alma mater, the Festus Tigers of Jefferson County, Missouri, lost to Sullivan (Mizz) High School 35-14 this weekend, dropping their season record to 1-1. However, your humble reporter feels compelled to laud the radio team of KTUI 102.1 FM in Sullivan, whose announcers described the game expertly, did not pretend that the score didn't matter, and did not use the phrases "shot themselves in the foot" or "these young men" once during the broadcast.
As loyal a fan as is the Geek of Tigers football and OC Jim Sardo's flexbone offense, hearing a loss described by a visiting radio crew in such professional fashion, without Little-League platitudes or "GO GIT EEM JIM BOB!" bias, made a Friday night loss almost a pleasure.
Tune to Bleacher Report every Saturday Night for the Geek's national prep football report, and follow on twitter at @thegridirongeek.
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