Blowout Games and Substitution Strategy

We are four games into the season, and in three of the four we’ve been up by four or more touchdowns with clear control of the game. In two of those three games we’ve been in that position before half-time. Our league rules (and sportsmanship) dictate that we put on the brakes at the point. By rule we cannot be up by more than 35 points at any time during the game.

Being in this situation is a mixed blessing. It shows that the team is executing well on both sides of the ball. It gives us a chance to play our backups in most positions and potentially strengthen the team top to bottom. There are some downsides however, and those really came to light during our game last Saturday.

By pulling our starters very early in the game (2nd quarter), we run the risk of disillusionment by the very players that are working the hardest to improve themselves and the team. Also, because of the scoring limitation when we put reserves into skill positions, they aren’t allowed to score! Finally, when you are up by that much early in the game, the tide can turn quickly.

We were up 28-0 very early in the second half when I put in a hodgepodge defense without any of my starting linebacker core. They did a serviceable job but our opponent scored and kicked their PAT - 28-8. We scored again on our next drive - 34-8. We proceeded to trade touchdowns with them making all of their extra points and our team making none. The icing on the cake was an option pitch fumble in our backfield with a little over 2 minutes left in the game that they returned for a touchdown. After the 2 point conversion, the score is now 40-32. Can you imagine the tension on our sideline?

We recovered the onside kick and ran out the clock to secure the victory, but as you can guess there was plenty of discussion amongst the coaches after the game about how we let things get out of hand. Our hearts were in the right place (19 or our 20 dressed players got tackles in the game - the highest percentage I’ve ever seen in a youth game) but we need to manage the game better going forward. We are entering the second half of the season and we are making a few adjustments:

  • We will stay strong on defense until mid-way through the 4th quarter. We’ll do point substitutions with reserves, but not wholesale swap-outs of our defense. If the opponent gets into the red zone we’ll “go hot”.

  • We will work our reserve running backs fully into the game when we get up by three touchdowns to give them ample opportunities to score without fear of bylaw violations.