We are all guilty of it. Some of us a lot more than others.
If you have watched a football game, in person or on television, you have put yourself in the shoes of a coach. At least once. And it’s more than just once, let’s be honest.
“They should go for it here.”
“I’d kick the field goal.”
“Play-action pass, hit Smitty on a crossing pattern. Let’s go.”
“Punt team. Play it safe.”
Armchair quarterback. I’ve done it and continue to do it. You have done it as well. It’s part of the charm of football. It’s why we love the sport, at every level.
Friday night, fans throughout the stands at Laurel High and across the county were brushing up on their armchair quarterback skills. The Spartans were hosting Serra Catholic in a WPIAL Class 2A quarterfinal-round playoff matchup.
Laurel had the ball inside the Eagles’ red zone three times in the first half of that game. Two times, the Spartans had goal-to-go situations. All three times, Brian Cooper kept his offense on the field. and each time, Laurel came away with zero points.
The second chance, the Spartans had fourth-and-goal at the 2. and the third opportunity, Laurel had fourth-and-goal from the 3.
Those empty chances ultimately spelled doom for the Spartans in a 6-0 loss.
Virtually every time, fans are urging their team on to go for it. When it doesn’t work out, there are cries of “why didn’t they kick the field goal? Get some points out of it.”
In 2002, Herman Edwards was coaching the New York Jets and was asked in a news conference about a loss to the Cleveland Browns.
Edwards’ reply was simple: “You play to win the game. Hello. You play to win the game. You don’t play to just play it.”
Following the game, I interviewed Serra Catholic coach Jose Regus about Laurel going for touchdowns. His reply was similar to Edwards. “They were trying to win the game. Give them credit. It’s a playoff game and they were playing to win and they wanted to win.”
Walking off the field that night with Cooper, we got down around the 3-yard line. He stopped and pointed out that the Spartans had the ball on the right hash. Looking at the goal post, it was a severe angle. To kick, or to go for it. It’s a decision that has to be made immediately, or get flagged for delay of game.
The key thing is, Cooper has been coaching this team all season. Laurel was 11-0. Undefeated. A first for the Spartans in 44 seasons. They routinely have success with playmakers like Kobe DeRosa, Luke McCoy, Michael Pasquarello and others. The linemen create those openings for the skill players. They’ve done it all year.
Cooper had full faith in his team lining up to get two or three tough yards each time. One time, they got as close as the 10 and were pushed back to the 15 on a penalty. What would suggest Cooper do anything but grab a big portion of the momentum. He knows his defense would rise up and deliver if his team was turned away. And they did just that each time. Forcing a punt soon after to get great field position. That’s what makes the decision that much easier.
Coaching at the high school, college or professional level is nothing like playing Madden. Hitting the pause button, grabbing a beverage, ponder your options, maybe call a friend, use a lifeline. You’re on the fly and making important decisions. You only have so much time on the play clock.
One thing is for certain, Cooper was coaching to win the game. He deserves a lot of credit for pushing the right buttons and trusting the young men that he coached all year and watched dominate the opposition.
QUITE A SEASON
Six teams from Lawrence County made the playoffs this year, five of which competed in the WPIAL brackets. Wilmington participated in District 10.
Laurel, Mohawk, Neshannock, New Castle and Shenango comprised the WPIAL playoff participants. What a great season area teams had on the gridiron. They left many fond memories with county fans.
Let’s take a little closer look at those six teams.
The Spartans finished the regular season 10-0 and ended up 11-1. It marked the first unbeaten regular season for Laurel in 44 years. Senior leadership helped propel the Spartans to the No. 3 seed in the WPIAL Class 2A playoffs.
Laurel was a fun team to watch this year. The Spartans dominated on both sides of the ball and they rarely punted, that’s how prolific their offense was. If you missed out on watching Laurel play, you missed out on a lot. There was plenty of talent all over the field for the Spartans.
Luke McCoy rushed for almost 1,800 yards and he scored 31 touchdowns. Kobe DeRosa also went over 1,000 yards rushing. That’s impressive.
The Warriors bounced back nicely following a 1-6 campaign in 2020 to log a 6-6 ledger this season. Senior quarterback J.C. Voss excelled for the Warriors, throwing for a county-best 1,551 yards and 16 touchdowns with seven interceptions.
The Lancers produced a 7-4 record and were eliminated in the first round by Serra Catholic. Last year, Neshannock finished 4-3 and missed the playoffs by one game.
The Lancers were hit hard by injuries, losing Cam’Ron Owens and Luciana DeLillo in the early portion of the season. Neshannock displayed its talent despite the injuries and it paid off with a playoff berth.
Junior Peyton Weaver paced Neshannock in rushing with 997 yards and 14 touchdowns, and he will be a great building block for next season’s team.
Kudos to the Red Hurricane for a great season. New Castle slumped to a 1-5 record last year and allowed at least 35 points in every game. In the ‘Canes’ five losses last year, they gave up no less than 44 points.
New Castle put that tough season behind and delivered a 7-5 record and a Class 4A playoff berth. Included in that was a road win over Highlands in the first round of the season.
Did the defense improve? You better believe it did. The ‘Canes allowed 37 points or more four times and gave up 14 points or less four times.
Senior quarterback Chris Hood finished with over 1,000 yards rushing and passing for the season. He surpassed both totals in the playoffs. There are just 13 total players in WPIAL history to accomplish that feat in the regular season only, according to the Twitter handle @WPIAL_Blitz on a post from Oct. 29, and a more detailed story can be found on steelcityblitz.com Hood needed the playoffs to get to those milestones. Regardless, it doesn’t diminish from a fantastic season that he delivered both running and throwing. He made things difficult on opposing defenses. Hood is in elite company with his single-season totals no matter what criteria you are using.
One of Hood’s many highlights included a game-winning touchdown pass to Austin Kelly in a 14-10 home win over Montour with just 8.3 seconds left.
The Wildcats reached the district semifinals last year. Shenango settled for a 4-7 mark this year and an appearance in the quarterfinals.
The Wildcats were able to overcome a 0-4 start to clinch a postseason berth.
Shenango will build around running backs C.J. Miller and Hunter Lively, along with quarterback Sam Patton. Miller led the team in rushing with 1,009 yards. The Wildcats should be a team to watch next year with the youth they have coming back and the experience they logged throughout the season.
The Greyhounds’ run of five consecutive District 10, Class 2A titles came to an end this year with a 48-6 loss to Farrell in the championship game. Though the season didn’t end with gold, it was still a success for Wilmington.
Senior running back Luke Edwards led the Greyhounds in rushing with 1,074 yards. Quarterback Tuff McConahy is just a sophomore and he will be back to direct the Wilmington offense.
The arrow will continue to trend upward for the Greyhounds, they will bounce back.
This season was special around the county for the volume of teams qualifying for the playoffs. Will it be a given we get that many local teams next year? No. But there’s quality athletes around the county ready to lead their teams to the postseason and it’s not out of the question that we will see that many teams advance into the postseason next year.
(Ron Poniewasz Jr. is the New Castle News sports editor. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org)