Special Teams and Kicking Game
Our kick coverage was unbelievable all night. With David Ward's ability to kick the ball deep down the field and the relentless pursuit of our kickoff team, Astoria was faced with a long field for most of the game. A successful measure of a high school kickoff team is typically pinning the opposing offense consistently inside their own 30 yard line. We managed to hold Astoria inside the 20 for much of the night. David was again perfect on the night on PAT's which proved to be the edge we needed to secure victory. Often overlooked is the protection necessary to make those points possible; the snap (Daemon Fassler) and the hold (Kevin LaCoste) are the rest of the equation that makes this unit successful. We were perfect on the night and David's 34 yard field goal in the fourth quarter was critical to securing the victory. The consistency shown week after week by these units is a rarity. Most teams don't enjoy that and it will certainly pay big dividends as we make our push towards the end of the season and into the playoffs.
Last week I found myself having The Discussion about The Decision…so being able to write about The Drive is that much sweeter today. Facing 65 yards of green space with 3 minutes to go is a daunting task for any high school program, especially a team that is perceived as one that "only runs the ball." The ability to make this push to victory is a testament to the belief that our kids have in each other and the belief they have in the system that got them there. There was no panic, no concern, no fear of failure. Prior to taking the field for our last possession I witnessed a group of mature young men that were ready to shoulder the burden of 7 years of losing the Clatsop Clash, the memory of losing 44-38 in OT last year, and the fact that they were down by 7 with so little time left on the clock. They put that on their backs, focused on the task at hand and, to a man on that field, they expected to win. Despite being backed up with penalties and facing a 1st and 25 at one point, we maintained composure, relied on our training, and went to work. The resiliency that these young men showed after experiencing a frustrating night was nothing less than what we as coaches expect. Adversity is something we talk about consistently and over the past two years our boys have become accustomed to looking it straight in the eye, standing up tall and tackling it head on.
Defensive Stop when it was Most Needed
The phrase "bend but don't break" is often used to describe a night just like the one our defense had. It would be tough to say that at one point in the game we weren't broken. Too many opportunities were given to Astoria after forcing them into 3rd and long situations and then failing to finish the job in order to get our offense back on to the field. We did, however, come up with a huge stop when it mattered most. As Astoria marched down the field in the 4th quarter on a drive that would have secured their victory if it had resulted in a score, we dug our heels in and made two huge plays on 3rd and 4th downs that turned the tide. Astoria looked to hit a home run on a 3rd and short play with a reverse but Parker Riser stayed home at his defensive end position and wrestled one of their best athletes down for a ten yard loss. 4th down saw the opening of the flood gates in a sack by Kyver Hamilton that resulted in a turnover on downs and gave us the momentum we needed to make the final push.
Coming to a conclusive decision on "Play of the Night" is proving to be a difficult task after all that transpired on Thursday night. We always talk about Team First but on Thursday night there were some clutch plays by individuals in the final minutes that warrant attention. David Ward's 34 yard field goal was an absolutely perfect strike through the uprights that narrowed Astoria's lead to one score. As previously mentioned, the discipline that Parker Riser showed in staying home on a reverse proved to be a critical turning point in the waning minutes of the game. Sometimes it's necessary to go deep into the playbook and pull out all the stops. Thursday night presented us with the perfect opportunity to get tricky. Facing a critical 3rd and 7 yards to go, the Guard Special was executed flawlessly. LaCoste threw a strike to Tadei who secured the pass and then made a perfect lateral to Beaudoin who pulled from his offensive guard position to receive the pitch and run for a first down. It was easily the best execution of the play since we began practicing it weeks ago. I guess there is some merit to making fullbacks into offensive linemen after all. LaCoste's TD strike to Nick Richardson capped off an unbelievable night. It's one of our go-to plays that gets heavy rotation in practice. Kevin threaded a needle with the pass and Nick secured the ball for a touchdown that no one in this county will forget anytime soon. As I called that final play in the huddle, I saw the confidence in the faces of our team and knew that they would get it done…and they did.
Penalties and Turnovers
It's been a couple of weeks since I have had to address this, but it reared it's ugly head again and hampered our ability to control the ball and maintain consistency and critical momentum on offense. We were penalized nine times over the course of the game and put ourselves in bad situations all night. We have to clean up the penalties. Our competition will get better each week and we can't afford to make those types of mistakes and expect to be victorious when the final seconds tick off the clock. No takeaways and two turnovers narrows the positive takeaway margin we have enjoyed all season. It isn't going to bode well for us if we continue to be careless with the football and don't secure turnovers for the remainder of the season.
Open Field Tackling and Poor Pursuit Angles
We did a poor job of allowing the opposition to get in space and making people miss. We have to be better tacklers. I have no problem allowing receivers to catch balls in front of us as long as we are able to wrap up and make tackles, but we can't continue to miss and give receivers the opportunity to gain more yardage after the catch. Additionally, backside pursuit of ball carriers is an area we will focus on in the remaining weeks of practice. We have to do a better job of filling backside running lanes and not leaving defensive linemen as the sole protector of the back side when an opposing player breaks containment and gets into the open field.
Lack of Focus
Homecoming is a great week for everyone with all of the events it presents for our kids and community to get involved in and rally school spirit. This week, however, much of our previous laser-like focus on our opponent was lost or muted in all of the activities leading up to the game. We must retain that focus and come prepared to every film session, practice, and game that remains in the season. Complacency and lethargy in our preparation have no place in our program. We must prepare and play with focus and determination each and every week.
While I don't typically include a wrap-up in the blog I want to just take a moment to say a sincere thank you to the community who has rallied around this team. As I looked around at the people who surrounded us at midfield following the win I saw parents, grandparents, siblings, students, and literally hundreds of community members who are there to show their Gull Football pride. I saw faces full of joy, smiles, even tears of happiness as your Gulls not only won this decades-long rivalry game but they did it for the first time since 2005. As coaches, we spend time with this team every day and know how special they are but we also know how special it is to have the support of a stadium full of people who believe in these young men, who believe in what football can do for us as individuals, as a team, and within a community. Thank you for embracing your team and keep watching because there is more to come. MOC!
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