Winning edge lies in trick plays
Tuesday, March 11, 2008
by Ben Volin
The weather wouldn't let Austin Bowe hold his Seminole Ridge flag football practice outside Thursday, but his team went to the classroom for some chalk talk, because there was plenty to be learned.
Cover 2 defense. Zone blitzing. First-step reads, audibles and the west coast offense. They may not tackle each other, but the girls are definitely playing football.
"This certainly isn't like playing in the schoolyard," said Bowe, a flag football coach in The Acreage since 2000.
And it isn't "three yards and a cloud of dust." There are no fumbles in flag football - the ball is dead once it hits the ground - so razzle-dazzle plays are the norm.
"It's pretty intense," Palm Beach Gardens coach Jim O'Connor said. "A lot of people come to a game and see how these girls play, and it's like, 'I had no idea.''"
Plays are designed to have as many as four laterals. The hook-and-ladder play made famous by the Miami Dolphins in the 1982 playoffs? That's a basic play in any flag football offense.
"As soon as we catch the ball, we're trying to have trailing receivers running alleys and lanes to pitch the ball," Lake Worth coach Rich Dujon said. "Every time we touch the ball, it's a scoring opportunity."
The terminology can be as complicated as it is in tackle football. Bowe's playbook has 10 base passing routes. His quarterback can call an audible at the line to isolate a given receiver.
"And then I'd also call screen-block audibles, which tells the running back to come in and block," Bowe said.
Seminole Ridge can afford to have a complicated playbook because the kids have been playing for years in The Acreage's popular recreational league.
One play is called UC 6 Reverse 3 - the 6 receiver undercuts the line of scrimmage, catches a pass running across the middle and pitches it to the 3 receiver running the other way.
"We've been doing it since we were eight years old, but it can still get complicated because there's always something else going on," said Brianna Lauer, the Hawks' quarterback.
Teaching the intricacies of Xs and Os is the challenge for coaches in areas where flag football is still catching on.
"Teaching the triple-option to these girls, it's kind of rough," Boca Raton coach Alan Neischloss said. "It's difficult to teach boys how to run it, and it's even more difficult to teach girls who have no idea about football."
Flag football's rules - 7-on-7, no blocking with the hands, no fumbles - force teams to move the ball creatively. Most run variations of the option offense and a Cover 2 zone defense.
Without traditional blocking, "you can't just run an I-formation straight at people," Boynton Beach coach Ryan Green said. "Using reverses and pitches is the only way to create space and use your speed."
The key to the game is what coaches call "pitch relationship." When a receiver catches a pass, the other girls learn to stay in their lanes and give the receiver the option to pitch to either side, or keep the ball and head up-field.
"Timing is key," O'Connor said, "and then you've got to make sure the pitch girl is not in front of the ball carrier."
And there's no better feeling than executing a complicated trick play.
"It's really the part of the game that makes it so fun," Dujon said. "The terminology, that stuff is the toughest. But we tell the girls when we bring them out, 'If you have speed, we'll teach you how to play.' "