Inside Football with Chris Felton (Wk 8)

Look for Chris Felton’s weekly columns over the course of the football season. Felton, who is providing color on WNPV 1440 AM’s high school football broadcasts, boasts 10 years of coaching experience at the high school level and two years at the collegiate level. Felton spent eight years coaching at Central Bucks West and one year each at Pennridge and Central Bucks East. He also had coaching stints at Delaware Valley College and Gettysburg College. In his weekly column, Felton will not only be sharing his insights into the game itself but also attempting to familiarize fans with the game.

On Friday night I had the opportunity to broadcast the East-West game for WNPV.  As my partner Kyle Berger pointed out numerous times, when East meets West, you can throw out all of the records. The only thing that matters on that particular night are those two teams, and that specific episode of the rivalry.  Kyle couldn't be more correct- for both of these teams, it is an October version of the Super Bowl.

Those who are not familiar with the game may not understand the emotion that surrounds this rivalry.

What makes this rivalry so great?

It's not played on Thanksgiving (although it used to be), it's not the big game at the end of the year, these teams have never played against each other in the playoffs, and it may have only been once or twice that a league championship was decided by the game.  And, as we all know, CB South was built in 2004.  So what is it?

At its core, the rivalry is about people. It’s the emotions of the players and the history of the past that pervades throughout the atmosphere.

For both teams, no other game measures up in terms of intensity and emotion.  Yes, these players know each other very well, but it isn't just about bragging rights for the year- it is more like bragging rights for a lifetime.

Like all rivalries, there have been some unforgettable performances and names.  This year was no exception.  You can add Jake Poeske's name to the list.  Jake is a captain for the Bucks.   Jake scored the winning touchdown, was all over the field on defense, and had the game-saving interception. On the interception, Jake was in the curl zone which is part of the under coverage.  The ball was thrown deep and Jake sprinted about 20 yards to get in position to rip the ball from the East receiver.  What makes this even more impressive is that Jake was only two weeks removed from knee surgery.  I know it is an overused word, but I will say it anyway - Jake that was an awesome effort!!

And again, only the word awesome can be used to describe the act of sportsmanship that both teams demonstrated at the end of the game.

Unfortunately, CB East receiver and co captain Brandon Sparks was injured on the play.  Sparks also had an unbelievable game. I was so impressed with Brandon's running Friday night. I guess it was only fate that the two stars of the game would determine its outcome on the final play.

Sparks was injured and was being tended to on the sidelines.  In an unbelievable act of sportsmanship, both teams took a knee and postponed the handshake until Brandon appeared to be okay.  That is a credit to both teams and schools.

Like I said, the CB East-CB West rivalry is about the people.

SOL: Time To Get Defensive

The days are getting shorter, the nights cooler, and we are seeing more oranges, reds, and yellows.  It means two things:1. We are just a little bit past the midpoint of the season and 2. It is time to get defensive.

If teams haven't already placed defense as their top priority, now is the time!  If a playoff team waits until playoff time to place defense as a top priority, then they will be as dead as the brown leaves blowing in the street.

So…what does prioritizing the defense look like?  Below is a list of ideas that I have gathered over the years from championship programs.

Tackling
There needs to be a balance between practicing tackling and keeping your players healthy.  Balance does not mean sacrifice.  Tackling is a skill that needs to be practiced in some sort of capacity.  A complete departure from practicing tackling is a bad idea that will show, come playoff football.  On the other hand, we are entering a period of time where the season is starting to get long…don't kill your kids on Tuesday.

Defense on Tuesday
Championship teams install their defenses on Monday and emphasize practicing defense on TUESDAY.  To do otherwise is putting a tremendous amount of undue pressure on the defense.  By this point of the season, new offensive wrinkles will be limited. But defensively, you have to prepare each week for a completely different offense. You must give the kids a chance to digest this new information.

Be Multiple
Without question one of the rebuttals to the ‘Tuesday’ point may be "Well, we are just going to run our defense." Fair enough, but even the high schools that don't run multiple fronts or coverages (most of which are not in the playoffs) still need time to prepare for their opponents, many of which are unfamiliar foes. 

Mix It Up
This is an extension of the ‘be multiple’ argument.  Coaches coaching in the playoffs are too good not to attack the weaknesses of a team that sits in the same defense the entire game.  Remember- if there was one perfect defense, everybody would be running it.  You have to adjust.

Make Adjustments!!!
Defenses must have their adjustments in place.  You have to adjust to trade, trips, double slot, tight wing, and especially unbalance and tackle over.  In terms of unbalance, some of the best defensive coordinators give the players a universal check. It's simple and eliminates confusion. Great programs show their players unbalanced formations all week.  Great defensive coordinators coach their players to recognize it quickly.  Great defenses practice formation recognition and communication, and it shows on the field.  It also shows on film. You can bet your bottom dollar playoff opponents will know which formations give the defense problems.

Watch Film in Advance
Players are always coached to focus on that specific week, and that is the correct message to send.  However, coaches must start anticipating their likely playoff opponents- at least for week one.  They need to obtain information and film.  The District One point system eliminates a lot of the guessing, so teams need to start sending out scouts and film guys now.  Teams that wait until the Saturday before the game have waited too long. Remember: every team has at least one explosive player on offense.  Playoff teams normally have three or four explosive weapons- great defenses are prepared.

Get Your Best Players on the Field
Come playoff time, there are no more one-way specialists.  There is no tomorrow for the losing team. Therefore, the best players need to be on the field.  Many good teams try to conserve the energy of the offensive lineman.  This is the time of year to start getting them reps. Come playoff time there is no more saving their energy, they need to be in there. Get them reps- now! Additionally, great teams never stop experimenting.  If they think that their all league defensive tackle could be an all-state defensive end- they will try them out- even in the playoffs.

There is No More 50/50
As coach Lombardi once said, “Great offenses win games, but great defenses win championships.”

By playoff time, offenses are well-oiled machines.  They need to be practiced and blocking schemes need to be mastered, but in reality how many new wrinkles are offenses putting in during playoff weeks? Most offensive coordinators would say, ‘Not too much, we run what we run.’

Defenses need more time, all it takes is one or two defensive breakdowns to cost a team the season.  Offenses don't play with the stakes so high.

Who are the Best Defenses in the League?
Abington- fast, physical, well coached, and multiple
North Penn- disciplined, physical, well coached, and multiple
Council Rock South- physical, fast, well coached, and multiple
Pennridge- physical, fast, well coached, and multiple

Do you see a pattern here?

Three of those teams are shoo-ins for the playoffs. And although Pennridge started off slowly, they have rebounded and may find themselves playing meaningful November football.

As always, good week and good football.