Video: Pulaski Academy football highlights Recap: Pulaski Academy vs. Highland Park 2015
See the Bruins in action last season.
I had a fantastic talk with coach Kevin Kelley of Pulaski Academy (Little Rock, Ark.)
back in July. I have the utmost respect for this man, even more so after discussing our great game with him for more than an hour.
Unless you live under a rock, you've heard of coach Kelley: he is the coach who never punts, and always onside kicks.
Having been a special teams coordinator for the last 14 years I've coached (including eight of those when I was a head coach, I'm a special teams guy. I'm also a stats nerd. I love numbers, and I love sports, therefore I love stats. So, I've always been intrigued by what coach Kelley does with the punt game, or should I say doesn't do.
A lot of media outlets have interviewed and featured his philosophy over the last decade. ESPN documented a game in 2015
, as has Sports Illustrated
. Most of what I've ever read about his philosophy has detailed how it has led to championships, and victories. Just last year, Pulaski won another state championship in Arkansas, its fifth.
But I've always wanted to look at it from the point of view of a loss. I've always been curious to know if his philosophy has led the team to a loss. So, one night I looked up on MaxPreps when they last lost a playoff game, and found that it was in 2013. They lost to Morrilton in a barn-burner, 57-50. Then I googled that game, and found video of it, the whole game; you can find it online here
. This was the perfect opportunity for me to "crunch the numbers," to look at this philosophy to see how it affects a game.
Obviously, you cannot look at just one sampling size to make a decision on an entire philosophy that's been used in almost 200 games. But I don't have the time to watch 200 games, and again, I just wanted to see how the philosophy affected a loss.
Pulaski was the consensus No. 1 team in the state heading in to the game. They were the highest scoring team in their conference, 11-0 heading into that night. Morrilton was 10-2 heading in to the matchup. Pulaski had won 11 games in a row, beating its opponents by an average of 23.7 points. One local newspaper picked Pulaski to win by 10.
And after one quarter, it looked like that might happen. For the most part, Pulaski was dominating the game. It was 15-7 after the first quarter. But a disastrous second quarter for Pulaski saw the Devil Dogs score a whopping 26 points.
Was it the "no punt" philosophy of Kelley that put them in this position? Let's break down the second quarter by looking at Pulaski's fourth downs specifically. I wanted to take a critical look at this philosophy and how it could impact the game.SECOND QUARTER, 6:45 - 4TH AND 7 FROM OWN 36, PULASKI LEADING 22-14
This is where I think the entire game shifted away from Pulaski. Instead of punting away the ball, they threw a pick six. Instead of putting the opponent on their own 34-yard line (assuming just a 30 yard punt), and maintaining a 21-14 lead, they gave up a touchdown to maintain just a 22-20 lead. That's a huge momentum swing for the Devil Dogs.SECOND QUARTER, 5:30 – 4TH AND 13 FROM OWN 13, PULASKI LEADING 22-20
On the next series, Pulaski starts on their its 30. Three plays later, they are facing another fourth down. Fourth and 13 from their own 27. A bad shotgun snap gives the Devil Dogs the ball on the 4-yard line. Instead of punting, and putting the Devil Dogs back on their side of the field to about the 40 or so, they get the ball deep in Pulaski academy. And sure enough, the Devil Dogs scored on the first play, to go up 27-22 with 5:19 to go in the second quarter. They never looked back.
Take a look at what happened in just 3 minutes: the Devil Dogs took advantage of the amazing field position given to them by those fourth down miscues, and scored three touchdowns in three minutes to go up 27-22. "Momentum ALL Devil Dogs," the TV announcer said.
SECOND QUARTER – 4TH AND 4 FROM OWN 46, PULASKI DOWN 27-22
Pulaski takes over on their 40. A sack, incomplete pass and a completion leave them four yards short on fourth down. Facing a fourth and 4 from its own 46, Pulaski attempts to convert. Interception. The Devil Dogs take it down to the 19 yard line. (To be fair, many coaches would probably try to convert that fourth down at that place in the field). But think about the momentum that their opponent already has.
So, instead of punting the ball away, and putting the Devil Dogs down around their own 20 yard line or so, they had it 61 yards closer to the end zone, the 19-yard line. The announcer said, "Momentum switch in the second quarter, man it is all Morrilton right now."
And the Devil Dogs scored three plays later to go up 33-22 with 2:19 to play in the second quarter. Three failed fourth down attempts. Three quick scores by the opponent. A lead evaporated, quickly, in just five offensive plays by the Devil Dogs.
They scored 26 points in 7 minutes.
It was a disastrous second quarter for the Bruins. Those 26 second-quarter points were the most points the Bruins had ever allowed in one quarter under Kelley. Pulaski ended up losing the game, 57-50.
There is no arguing coach Kelley's success. It's unfair to evaluate his entire career, and the five state championships he has earned, by looking at one quarter. However, I do believe it is fair to evaluate the philosophy in the rearview mirror. Did the philosophy cost them a sixth state championship? Chris Fore is a veteran Head Football Coach and Athletic Director from Southern California. He consults coaches and programs nationwide through his business Eight Laces Consulting.