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Friday, November 01, 2013

Trail Makes a Statement

National Trail made a statement Friday night against North. Coming into the game as a playoff bubble team, they needed a win to ensure that they would make the playoffs. And all this season the talk has been about the top three teams in the Cross County Conference for the past few years: Covington, Miami East, and North.  Trail has been on the outside looking in - despite their record, they have not been getting the respect that those teams command.  Like a gunslinger they used all their bullets against North: fake punt, passing on 1st down from their own 12, then going for and making a critical 2 point conversion.  A scrappy team and gutsy play calling combined to give Trail an upset win against North 15-12.

In the first quarter it was a flag festival as it seemed that both teams accumulated more yardage in penalties than in yardage.  Either the players or the referee's adjusted as the flags didn't seem to fly as much after the first quarter. Trail had a great runback by Devin Mize to midfield and they visited the redzone and actually scored twice - but penalties nullied the TD's. Finally they turned over the ball on downs with nothing to show for their efforts.  North meanwhile went to work and scored on a 2 yard run by Garret Woodgeard.  The score was set up by a Austin Johnson catch on the 19 yard line.  But on the extra point, there was a flag that moved the ball back to the 8. Then a messed up kick attempt made North try to run the ball in and that failed. 

North's lead was shortlived as Trail scored quickly on their possession with a 65 yard touchdown pass. They made their extra point and Trail led 7-8 as the teams entered the second quarter. Trail seemed to move the ball with short passes to the flats, mixing in an occassional run. They were able to get the ball inside the red zone but a penalty left them in long yardage. They tried a field goal, the ball had the distance but hit the goal post.  That was the only scoring opportunity by either team in the second quarter. North was blitzing more often and were pressuring the quarterback.

The second half was where I was impressed with Trail.  When I compared sidelines - North had a lot more depth.  So Trail was playing iron man football with a lot of players going both ways. So conventional wisdom was that Trail would wear down in the second half, but they were scrappy throughout. And in their opening drive, it seemed that indeed North was going to grind them down.  Using almost exclusively the run they had a clock chewing drive to the 32 yard line where Garrett Woodyard caught an Austin Hutchins pass for North's second score, but the 2 point conversion failed.  Still North lead 12-7.  North's strategy seemed to be to utilize the run to keep Trails potent offense off the field.

Neither team did much in the remainder of the 3rd quarter, Trail had a good defensive stand and made North turn over the ball on downs at the Trail 28.  They moved the ball to midfield and early in the 4th quarter they did a fake punt and got the first down. When you are trying to get into the playoffs, you do what it takes.  They moved the ball to the redzone and a North sack seemed to knock them back - but a roughing call on the same play advanced the ball.  And on that same drive with a 4th and a long one at the goal line, Trail scored a touchdown pass.  They went for two and made it that gave them a 15-12 lead.  

North got the ball with about 4 minutes left on the scoreboard.  Then used a clock eating drive to advance the ball deep into Trail territory. Austin Johnson made a nice catch to put the ball on the 12. But here the drive stalled.  And with 23 seconds left, 4th and 2, North elected to go for the tie with field goal. It was not a good night for kickers as the ball sailed wide left. Trail took the victory formation and celebrated their best season ever.  

Trails spread offense was effective.  They did run the ball somewhat, but I would imagine that the bulk of their plays are passes.  Their quarterback, Garrett Griffen, took a pounding.  North really started to bring the heat. But he picked himself up and got himself ready for the next play. Trail's program has been constantly at the bottom of whatever league it has been in for decades.  It is tough when you can count the number of winning seasons for your school with one hand, and still have fingers left over. Well that has changed, no matter what happens in the playoffs the coach and the team can be proud of earning everyones respect this season.