A Closer Look – with Mark Miller Week #3

”A Closer Look” with Mark Miller

Week two and another overtime game!  Wow, who did the great job making out our schedule this year?  After tying it in overtime, Perry wins on a 2-point conversion 21-20.  Good win for Coach Slates and the Panthers. It was a great crowd (until the rain came), close game throughout and hundreds of kids on the field for a 5th quarter event after the game ended.  What a night!

What did not go well, at least for the visiting Akron East Dragons, was the number of penalties they had throughout the game and overtime. Before we get to that, does anyone remember what Akron East called themselves before they switched to the Dragons 7 or so years ago?  It was the Orientals.  I remember that because at Canton South we scrimmaged them before my senior year and then I recruited that school when I coached at Bowling Green. No matter what the mascot name, penalties have killed Akron East in both weeks one and two of this season.  

In the opener vs. Jackson they had 21 penalties.  I am sure the coaches worked on that during practice last week and they did cut down on that number but still had 14 penalties for 117 yards vs. Perry. That is more than a football field of lost yardage!  Tough to win when you do that to yourself every week.  Still, there they were in overtime against a good Perry team with a chance to win.

The Dragons (still sounds funny to me) actually had a penalty before the first play of the game AND before the last play of the game in OT.  Twelve men on the field before the kickoff resulted in a 5 yd. penalty and offsides in OT when Perry had the ball 4th and goal to tie it actually moved the ball about 6 inches from the goal line.  Why so many penalties???  Most of the infractions were mental errors – offsides, too many men on the field, illegal motion.  And many of them were on special teams. 

There are several reasons for penalties of this kind. 1) Youth and inexperience – Akron East has plenty of both as they play a lot of young kids. 2) Lack of confidence – see #1.  3) Small coaching staff – no one to concentrate on special teams and make sure kids are ready for a kick play and subs are ready for injured starters. 4) Lack of emphasis by coaching staff – this is a function of time and priority.  5) Lack of concentration – fatigue, injury, youth, low emphasis in practice all lead to a lack of concentration during a game.  How do you fix it?  Change numbers 1-5. For example, Coach Slates did not like the way his Panthers performed in the opening game loss to Central Catholic.  Sooo, the Panthers practiced early the next morning (usually a film and loosening up day), in full pads (normally a day off from contact).  Is that why they won Friday night?  Not sure but I know this, when they faced a critical situation in overtime, they found a way to win. 

On to week #3 – yet another overtime game?  I will miss doing the Canton South at Northwest game and watching my beloved Wildcats in action at 2-0 but this week I am subbing on the TV side for Frank Cilona.  So Jackson fans get ready for a late night!

Mark Miller




Week one was a blast!  Fans in the stands, bands playing, cheerleaders cheering, players shaking hands after games – this is high school football as it is meant to be.  What a start to the Stark County football season – 2 overtime games on Thursday night.  Both games were decided by a 2-point conversion in overtime.  Therefore, this week’s Closer Look deals with that subject – when should a coach decide to go for 2, and when should the team kick the PAT (point after touchdown)?

Pro and college teams almost always kick the PAT.  High schools not as often because some teams, in some years, do not have a reliable kicker, so they trust their offense to go for 2 rather than miss a kick and get nothing after a touchdown. High school teams that have a good kicker usually kick the PAT unless the score or situation either requires or invites a 2-point attempt.

For instance, last Thursday Perry and Central Catholic went into overtime. The Crusaders had the ball first and scored a touchdown. Coach Lindesmith and his staff decided to go for two rather than kick.  They made it and forced Perry, who then scored a TD as well, to go for two to tie.  When they were unsuccessful with their 2-point conversion, they lost the game 28-26.

In Navarre, Sandy Valley and Fairless also went to overtime. The Cardinals had the ball first, scored a TD then kicked and made the PAT to go up by 7 points.  Fairless then scored a TD but rather than try to tie the game with a kick, decided to go for 2.  Hunter Campbell ran it into the endzone and the Falcons came away with a 1 point win 29-28. That allowed for one of the craziest postgame celebrations I’ve ever seen.  Coach AJ Sarbaugh explained it as the Ring of Fire. You have to see it to believe it but it sure was fun to watch!

Why did Coaches Lindesmith and Sarbaugh go for 2 and not kick the PAT? Neither team would have lost the game at that point if they kicked it and got 1 point. I did not see the events leading up to Central’s decision but I saw the Fairless game and asked assistant coach Jeff Sarbaugh afterwards how they decided to go for two. It basically came down to trusting their team and especially star running back Hunter Campbell who told the coach he wanted the ball. Putting the ball in the hands of your best player, on your best play, behind your best lineman, is never a bad idea. When a player of Hunter’s caliber says he wants the ball, he would have run thru a brick wall to score for his team.

Other factors enter into decisions like this. What are the weather conditions? Which way is the wind blowing and how hard?  Is my kicker healthy and kicking well? Is my team healthy and rested (last Thursday many players were cramping up due to heat and humidity)?  Do I have a play I think will work?  Do we have the momentum (Fairless had just completed a big comeback to tie the score in regulation). In some cases it comes down to a “gut feel” by the head coach. But usually it is a calculated decision that is discussed before the game is even played and decided on before the situation actually presents itself.  Even with all that going thru a coach’s head, sometimes even the most logical decision to kick or go for it does not work out.  Hey Browns fans, remember “Red Right 88”?