Lewiston High School football coach Bill County took a monumental gamble Friday night by trying to pick up a first down on fourth and a long yard at his own 10-yard line. The Blue Devils led Bangor 25-20 in their Eastern Maine Class A final. There was 2:38 left.
The deep handoff to Jeff Keene was snuffed out by Bangor’s defense for a six-yard loss and Bangor went on to score and win 28-25.
County had three choices: punt, take a safety and either kick off or punt the ball from the 20-yard line with a three-point lead, or go for it.
County involved his coaching staff and team in the decision although it ultimately came down to his decision.
I respect County.
He knew if it backfired, he would be individually blamed for the loss.
Had he kicked it away and Bangor driven for the winning touchdown, nobody would have blamed County for the loss.
Punting out of the end zone was too risky. Bangor would have probably received good field position.
What he should have done is take the safety and kick it from the 20. The Rams’ field position wouldn’t have been as good.
But he made what he thought was the right decision.
It took a lot of guts.
They first tried to draw Bangor offsides but it didn’t work so they called a timeout.
County felt his defense couldn’t stop Bangor’s offense, so giving Bangor the ball would have meant a last-minute loss.
His team had moved the ball consistently so he figured they were capable of picking up the first down, which would have all but cemented the win.
But then you have to pick the right play.
If he elected to throw the ball and it fell incomplete, Bangor would have gotten the ball at the 10.
That would have been extremely risky.
If you try a quick-hitter, which is a handoff to a running back who explodes toward the line as the ball is being snapped, you have to worry about the defense’s penetration since all 11 Ram defenders were in the box.
However, the pass or the quick-hitter were better options than the deep handoff.
In the deep handoff, the running back gets the ball late, he is usually five yards behind the line of scrimmage and he begins running laterally.
The idea is he has more time to read the blocking scheme and pick a hole. But his linemen are also forced to sustain their blocks longer and they are outnumbered.
The play had worked well throughout the game but, on fourth-and-one at the 10, you aren’t going to be facing a standard 3-4 or 4-3 defense with gaps to exploit.
You’re going to be staring at 11 sets of eyes, up close and personal.
Bangor was in a goal-line defense because the Rams knew if Lewiston got the first down, the game was essentially over.
County isn’t in the minority.
You see that type of all call in third- or fourth-and-short situations all the time these days.
What happened to the Sam “Bam” Cunningham leap over the line of scrimmage?
How about a quarterback sneak?
Or how about predetermining that you’re going to go for it on fourth down if you have two yards or less to get and then having your team line up immediately after the third-down play to catch the defense scrambling back into position? Run a quarterback sneak, a quick-hitter or go on a late count to try to draw the defenders offside.