Over the past months, I had the opportunity to coach Team United, a women’s football team comprised of ladies from various local churches to compete in a single day flag football tournament. Team United was crowned champions in 2011, and this would be their quest to defend the title in 2012. This is my recount of the last 5 minutes of the tournament.
“This is our time!”
The game clock said 5 minutes left in the ball game. Offense line up X steps on the field. This is not our ordinary line up but it is the line up that gives us the best chance in a must-score situation. Of the 25 players on this team, 14 of them play offense and the team truly needed every single player to get to this point. Coach Lin and Bao would manage playing time and rotations throughout the day and their efforts resulted in a line up that is still fresh and ready for this crucial drive.
Team United had not played from behind the entire tournament. Through the 3 round robin games, United scored first and scored often. But in the semi-final, and here in the finals the team was struggling to score. As the pressure increased with each game, teams were elevating their intensity and focus. Things that worked for us in the initial rounds were not there in the playoff rounds.
Here with 5 minutes left in the finals, Berean is up 7-0. Nearly 25 game time minutes had passed since Berean scored on their first drive of the game. United had had a few solid chances to score earlier in the game but missed on a few plays at Berean’s 1 yard line and 5 yard line. Frustration and nerves were setting in as the team realized this could be the deciding drive of the game.
After a few plays we suddenly found ourselves 2nd and 18 on our own 22 yard line (the field is 60 yards, with first downs at our own 20 and their 20). We call an isolation play for Crystal on the left side. Crystal and Sylvai (QB) had been working on a bounce route all season. Practices normally ended ~5:30pm but Syl and Crystal would still be on the field running routes and getting the timing down for 30-40 min each week.
The play doesn’t work. 3rd and 18, with 3.5 minutes remaining.
When you see a pair put so much time and effort into forging something, you don’t leave it up chance. We call time out and draw another isolation play, this time with Crystal running a fly route. With the corner that Berean has on her, Crystal will win a jump ball situation 9 out of 10 times. We call mass protect in the huddle, giving the QB 5 players on the line to give her the time to get a good look and a solid pass. I tell our line “give Syl 4 seconds. She needs 4 seconds.”
Asking for 3 seconds is a lot to ask of any line. 4 seconds is an eternity to hold off an opposing rush. This play makes or breaks the drive, with a championship on the line. a 4th and 15+ yard situation would be the end of the season.
The pass is beautiful but Crystal is just slightly too far infield. She contorts her body to reach over her back shoulder to make the grab. She does. It’s one of the most exhilarating catches of the day.
But football is a game of drives. Plays need to be strung together to sustain a drive down the field. One play doesn’t make or break a game. As beautiful a catch as it was, the drive ends on an interception on the very next play. United’s title hopes diminish greatly as the seconds continute to tick away.
“If you stop them here, they will punt”
The game clock says 3 minutes left in the ball game. The ball is in team Berean’s hands on the 19 yard line. 3rd and 1.
This one defensive stand encapsulated everything that the defense had worked on all season. A defense built to stop the run with 4 potential rushers on the line to pressure the QB to go to the air. The air was our specialty, we thrived when QB’s were forced to throw deep with our safeties picking off more than 4 passes today, returning 2 all the way for touchdowns. Time and time again throughout the tournament the defense had given the offensive confidence to go for it on 4th down situations, even if we were deep in our own territory. They were just that good throughout the day.
I yell, “3rd down! If you stop them here, they will punt!” Coach Clarence and I looked at each other immediately afterwards and knew there is a chance that wouldn’t be true. Our defense had been solid all day, we had only given up 2 offensive touchdowns the entire tournament. But here if Berean got a first down they could very well kill the rest of the game clock if they managed things right.
If ever there was time we would need a defensive stand this was it. One stop.
Whistle blows, Berean is stopped at the line of scrimmage. It’s 4th and 1.
We look over to the Berean sideline and see their coaches motion to punt. Our defense had given us one last chance.
The following sequence has to be explain in context from the beginning of the season. Emily T had asked me to help out coaching Team United this year and since the guys would not have a tournament this year, it meant our practice schedules would finally not conflict. When I joined the coaching staff, I was asked to work with Sylvia on her pocket presence and awareness. Immediately we began working on a wide range of things from footwork, throwing mechanics and timing, but the request we made early on was to have Syl design her own plays. That way she can make adjustments on the line and make calls as she sees them.
This was the flexibility and freedom given to me when I was playing with the guys and this was the next step for Syl in her evolution as a QB. Coach Lin and Bao would institue a passing tree that became the foundation for our spread offense and allowed us to go no-huddle if needed. One of the plays Syl loved to call early on was 6950. I personally didn’t like the play much but it seemed to work from time to time. I kept thinking against a good defense this play would have issues getting anyone open.
**update: Syl wants to make sure credit is given to the true mastermind of 6950. The play originated from last year’s offensive coordinator Steven C. Thanks Steve!
Here we were with 30 yards to go and needed to score a touchdown. 2:30 left in the game.
Syl looks over to the sidelines for a play but I don’t call one. I’ve been calling plays throughout the game and it hadn’t resulted in a touchdown, so I want to see if Syl can see something I can’t at the line of scrimmage.
Bao calls me over and says, “Hey, we need to get the ball to Jess. She can punch it in.” I agree but I want to see what Syl calls, I think she’s going to call a run play. Run plays had been good for us all day but we can’t afford to nickel and dime our way down the field with only 150 seconds left in the tournament. We need to pass and get to the line quickly.
Bao and Syl must be of one mind right now. She hikes the ball and hits Jess L our right wide receiver on a slant, who catches and rumbles off for 10 yards after the catch for a total of 20 yards. I love the play call so I rush into the huddle and ask Syl, “what play was that?!”
“6950”, she says.
“run it again”
I don’t tell her to look for Jess, when I return to the sideline Bao says again “did you tell her to hit Jess again?”. I shake my head no. Let’s see what she does. As if on cue, Syl hits Jess again on the same slant route. Touchdown.
United 6 – Berean 7.
1 or 2?!
Coach Clarence looks over to Lin and says, “I don’t know, you guys are going to have to call it.”
Lin motions to the ref with 2 fingers in the air, but I tell him to wait. As I head towards the huddle, I hear myself shout, “How do you feel?”
Syl stares back in disbelief, a bit flabbergasted that we’d leave the decision to her. We need her to believe in the decision. Confidence is key and here we’d stand together in victory or defeat no matter the decision.
A 1 point conversion starts at the 5 yard line and you get 1 chance to score from there. A 2 point conversion starts at the 7 yard line and you only get one chance to score from there as well. If we convert on a 1pt, we tie the game. 2pt conversion means we could win it. In a game of inches, 2 more yards is a long way to go.
It feels like forever. The refs have asked us a few times already, we hadn’t taken a time out to decide. Syl’s not too sure but Kelly grabs her and Kelly’s eyes open wide. Kelly’s ready to go for 2 and Syl looks ready as well. We signal to the refs “2”.
I run back to the sidelines and I realize I didn’t make a play call. It’d be up to Syl to call it once more.
The ball is hiked. It’s 6950 again. It’s Jess L again. She catches it at the 1 yard line…the defender is right on her hip and grabs at the flag. The defender misses momentarily and dives sideways and grabs the flag just as Jess reaches the line. The ref in the middle of the endzone raises his hands…a 2 PT conversion!!
The left sideline ref runs on to the field and points to the Berean player on the ground. She’s holding a reg flag at the 1/2 yard line. Berean players are sure she made the flag grab, United players are sure Jess made it in. There’s pandemonium on both sidelines as we try to make our cases. The ball was over the line! She held the ball out!
The referees huddle for minutes. I see the head referee motion to the 1 yard line. I see another referee hold a ball out with one hand at arms length as if to indicate she held it over the line. We have at least 2 refs on our side and at least 1 against. The coaches walk over to the offensive huddle and offer our congratulations. Regardless of the ruling, it was a crazy gutsy call and a beautiful drive.
The whistle blows and the refs emerge from their huddle. We see the head ref raise his arms…we scored the 2pt conversion.
United 8 – Berean 7
The final drive ends in a desperation heave as Berean has less than a minute left to launch down the field. It ends with an interception by a United safety. Game over. United repeats as defending champions.