Time for a Playoff Run

In the playoffs, excellent team play determines who advances and who goes home

By Jeff Epperly

It is time for a playoff run. There are some teams in our valley hoping that their “run” might bring them a state championship. We have several teams in the mix. The Columbia Falls Wildcats won their opener and now must travel across the state to play Sidney in round two. The Glacier Wolfpack host Missoula Sentinel at home in round one of the AA playoffs. And finally, Ronan and Eureka are playing in round two of the Class B tournament, while Polson is on to round two in Class A.

There is always something very special about the high school football playoffs. Football is the ultimate team game. On any given team, there is a need for at least 20-30 players to come together and perform at a very high level. These teams must have a combination of talent, size, quickness, and strength spread across as many positions as possible. In fact, on paper, the teams with more talent in more positions will without a doubt be the favorites to win.

But not always does the team with the most talent win. Local fans beware! Upsets are just that, upsets. As coaches often say, teams with less talent can beat teams with more talent if the more talented teams do not play together. In the playoffs, when the difference in team abilities begins to become less of a factor, excellent team play determines who advances and who goes home.

So what are the keys to making a playoff run?

In my opinion, there are three keys. First of all, the coaching staff must have a good game plan and get their team on board with that plan. Every team has different strengths and weaknesses, and in the chess match of coaching, you try to counteract your opponent’s strengths and take advantage of their weaknesses. Each coach is trying to figure out what play to call for his team based on what he thinks the other team is going to do. Included in this plan is making adjustments as the game unfolds. Whichever team can counter the opposing team more effectively can make the difference in who moves on to the next round.

This leads me to the second key: turnovers and penalties. The team with fewer turnovers and fewer penalties generally has a better chance of winning. Enough said.

And thirdly, there are what I call the intangibles of character and momentum. The character of team comes out in the midst of competition. We use words like toughness, resiliency, confidence, discipline, and even trust to describe teams. For example, teams must play aggressively, yet they must play disciplined football. Tentative play is a killer to good team play. Each player on the field must do their individual job every play. This collective performance of doing your specific job is powerful. In playoff football, no one can take a play off. Teams must have character to make this happen. 

Also, there is this thing called momentum. And when teams tend to be evenly matched, momentum changes can change the game. What can affect momentum? An injury or a turnover or even a great play by a quarterback or running back can move the momentum in a team’s favor. This idea of momentum is the belief that good things are happening and will continue to happen, while the other team begins to believe that things are going badly and may continue to go badly. This belief or lack of belief can sway a play or two and ultimately be the difference.

These keys are what make the playoffs so fascinating. Are our teams prepared to win? Can they play with character and grab ahold of momentum? I sure hope so. Let’s see if our Wildcats, Wolfpack, Lions, Pirates, and Chiefs can make a run in the playoffs. I know we will all be watching.

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