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The Overlooked Gamekiller - Special Teams

It’s not that offense and defense are unimportant. The performance in those areas is obviously key to a victory or loss on Friday nights. But the red headed stepchild is the special teams, which can easily prop up or ruin performances in the other areas. The latter was on full display in the South-Central Kentucky area on Friday.

It started with the opening game of the year in the area and perhaps the entire state, the Warren Central/Madisonville-North Hopkins game at Greenwood. The Dragons entered the game ranked #3 by BluegrassPreps.com and hadn’t lost to a team besides Bowling Green since 2010. The offense was far from flawless but did produce a pair of TDs. The defense was stout, giving up only a single sustained drive. Where the game was lost was a mess on special teams. It began with a missed 22 field goal on the first drive, erasing a chance for Central to get on top early after reaching the Maroon 10 yard line on the first play from scrimmage. At the end of the quarter, Madisonville blocked a Porter-Bunton punt to set themselves up at the WC 13 yard line, scoring a touchdown several plays later. The Dragons answered quickly with a long TD run, but then had special teams miscue #3, a blocked PAT. And just before halftime, #4 showed up, a muffed punt at the Dragon 2 yard line. The Maroons scored on the next play to go up 14-6. The last and most direct miscue was a blocked punt midway through the third quarter that was recovered and returned 26 yards for a touchdown, giving Madisonville an insurmountable 27-6 lead. The same player blocked both punts. Five special teams mistakes that cost the Dragons 4 offensive points and led directly to 21 points for Madisonville in a game Warren Central lost by 14.

Crosstown, Warren East was experiencing their own special teams nightmare. The Raiders entered their game against 3A #8 South Warren having defeated the Spartans in the previous two season openers. The first possession of the game set the tone. Warren East had a bad snap on their punt which gave South Warren the ball on the Raider 2. Joel Iyiegbuniwe scored on South Warren’s first offensive play of the year. It was a poor start East didn’t need against what proved to be a superior team. The exact same scenario played out again in the second quarter, a high snap, recovered by the Spartans, converted for a TD. By the time the second quarter was over, Warren East was down 35 points and on their way to an 0-1 loss.

Finally, back at Greenwood High School, the Gators were taking on Hopkinsville, a team they had beaten by 28 points the year before. The first quarter was a defensive struggle, but the Gators broke through for a touchdown midway through the second quarter to take a 6-0 lead. The PAT was blocked. After a Hopkinsville score, Greenwood drove deep into Tiger territory and set up for a field goal just before halftime. You guessed it, blocked. It was Greenwood’s last threat to take the lead. They trailed 14-6 at the 6 minute mark of the 3rd quarter when the Tigers blocked a punt at the Greenwood 12. They scored on a TD pass the next play. From there everything snowballed on Greenwood, ultimately ending in a 35-6 loss.

Three teams laden with special teams miscues that either assisted or directly put them on the wrong side of the win column in week 1. Offense gets the glory. Defense wins championships. But special teams will set you up for success in those categories or break you if you let it. My bet is, this was a point of emphasis in practice this week for these three programs.