By Marcelo Metzelar, Contributing Writer
Nebraska Danger had a late lead with twenty-nine seconds left. Iowa Barnstormers quarterback Daquan Neal avoided a safety and had two Danger linemen collide with themselves to buy enough time to heave the ball over to Connor Hollenbeck for a 47 yard touchdown. How did this breakdown happen? This is a prime example of the coaching saying, “Coaches don’t win games, players do.”
Defenses are taught, for the most part, that pass coverage needs to cover as deep as the deepest threat, and as wide as the widest threat. This can be done is several ways, including man and zone coverages, but at the end of the day, when a defense is trying to protect a one-score lead with little time remaining, they are almost willing the offense to attack the middle. The game clock will stop on plays that go out of bounds, and incomplete passes. Allowing shorter passes or runs in the middle allows the clock to continue running and become a factor in the game. It is significantly easier to execute, be it play calling or running a route, or blocking a defensive player when not dealing with the pressure of time. It is in these situations that time is an ally for the defense.
The Danger defense rushed two linemen and the other was kept as a spy. The spy’s assignment is to now allow the quarterback to escape the pocket and run downfield. Using a defensive lineman to spy also frees up a safety or linebacker to go into coverage. The sole linebacker in the game, Davonte Sapp-Lynch was locked in to Barnstormer running back, Jamal Tyler. This leaves one safety and three defensive backs in coverage. Though, there is a numerical advantage for the defense, the offense is allowed two men in forward motion – and that is the real advantage.
Man or zone coverage is designed to last four to five seconds. Run anything long enough, and it begins to break down exponentially as time passes. The Danger seemingly had the play in hand, when both ends, Chris Martin and Adolphus Barnes did an excellent job of beating their man and headed toward Neal. However, Neal’s athleticism allowed him to avoid the sack, buy time, and force the defense into conflict. Neal already rushed for 71 yards and 3 touchdowns. A defensive back’s difficult decision to remain in coverage or to pursue Neal had to made.
When the pursuit came to contain Neal, it broke down the coverage. The widest man, Hollenbeck, was left wide open, but the play does not end there. At the tail end of the play, the Barnstormer’s Ryan Balentine made a key block that allowed Hollenbeck to go into the end zone. This was selfless play. Arm chair quarterbacks can say that’s an expectation – and it is, but to get it done is a different thing. Because of ego, all too often, it becomes, “I didn’t get the ball, why should I do anything?” Or they watch in admiration, how their teammate caught the ball and gets tackled.
Balentine did what every winner does, and sacrificed for the betterment of the team. He is third in the league in receptions, but eleventh is yards per catch. This means he is the inside receiver who makes the crucial catches at the risk of quick hard tackles from the defense. It would have served his best interest to save himself from another hit, and he did not. That block at the end of the play was the game-winning block and that touchdown is as much his at it is his team’s.
The individual efforts of Neal buying time, Hollenbeck carrying a defender into the end zone, and Balentine’s block cannot be found in any playbook, call sheet, or game script. This is why coaches say, “Coaches don’t win games, players do!”