Special teams playing special
In football, the offense scores the touchdowns and garners most of the glory. The defense’s job is to stop opposing offenses and, though it’s claimed to win championships, often times a defender’s only glory is tallied by the amount of scars that adorn their helmet.
Special teams falls into a weird realm of transition and, more often than not, the fruits of their labor go unnoticed — that is, unless you’re an Indian River football fan.
Through the first two game of the 2006 fall season, all aspects of Indian River’s special teams have played a critical role in their sterling 2-0 start. The Indian River coaching staff has shown a willingness to use various trick plays on fourth down to keep the drive moving (converting on 1-2 attempts).
The team recovered an on-side kick in their Stephen Decatur win, pinned a Cape Henlopen punt returner three times inside the red zone and twice inside the 6-yard line, plus they’ve had only three of nine kickoffs returned for yardage.
For the last two seasons, Indian River’s football staff coaxed Tim Dupont, Matt Paoli and Andrew Cordell-Carey into kicking footballs on Friday nights, in addition to scoring goals for the school’s soccer team, but this season there wasn’t much concern. They knew going into the season that they had a dedicated kicker and, thus far, it appears that Pierson Roenke’s hard work has paid off.
“I was more surprised that he didn’t just sign a paper [to play],” Indian River’s head football coach, Jim Bunting, said. “He’d be out with Coach King, with his tees and footballs, practicing.
“There’d be some mornings that I’d be out at the school for something else [unrelated to football] and I’d see a lone man out on the field,” Bunting continued. “Pierson has a great work ethic and wanted to be here. He could’ve been surfing, or doing whatever, this summer. But he took it seriously, so, so did we.”
“I just wanted something to do since it’s my senior year,” Roenke said. “I saw that [with Andrew Cordell-Carey] it was possible to manage your time [between two sports, school and life]. So I started kicking a couple times a week, around mid-August.”
Thus far, Roenke has belted three of his four touchbacks in the season opening 20-14 Cape Henlopen win, made a touchdown-saving tackle and kept up his special-teams play in the 31-14 win over Stephen Decatur On Sept. 15.
Roenke successfully converted on 2 of 3 field goal attempts, despite poor footing on Indian River’s muddy field and scored the Indians’ first points of the game on a 31-yard field goal. He later tacked on another three points from 28 yards out to increase their score to 18-0 before the end of the first half.
He did come up just short of a 32-yarder and had an extra point blocked but, under the circumstances, he had a good game and was instrumental in the Indians’ first two wins.
“Having a guy who can kick helps us out a lot in the big games because there will be times we won’t be able to score touchdowns, and any points help,” Indian River quarterback Nick Kmetz said.
When they happen to be out of range for Roenke and a put in a position to punt, Indian River hasn’t been afraid to use or show their trick plays in order to convert for the first down. Usually, coaches don’t want to show the ace up their sleeve unless they have to. But in Indian River’s case, they want opposing teams to see what they’ve run. If a team overplays one fake — another will open up.
“Coach King has spent a lot of time with the special teams and it’s definitely a part of our game plan,” Bunting said. “We have a number of [trick] plays and onside kicks, and having coaches see them is exactly what we want. They can’t take anything for granted. We prepare 25 to 30 minutes a day on special teams, which means their coaches will have one more thing to prepare for.”
So far, Indian River has run an option play between the up-back, Zac Kmetz, and punter Perry Townsend that was negated by a penalty and run play for Townsend to move the chains, but Bunting expressed a desire for even better execution from his special teams.
“It can be deflating when you go all the way down [into scoring position] and miss,” Bunting said. “So, what we’re trying to do as a staff is do this right. We need our snapper and holder to take their time [in practice and in the game] and do it right. Pierson has confidence that his line will give him enough time, so we need to hold our gaps.”
Indian River’s defense has proven staunch enough to garner a few punt returns here and there, and when they do, Phillip or Perry Townsend will be there to punish anyone willing to get in their way.
Kickoffs have been slow to come so far — with only four — but when they do, Indian River has a pair of burners that can take it to the distance for a touchdown. Isaiah Phillips and Dominic Morris have both reeled off touchdown runs over 60 yards this season (60 and 64, respectively).
With special teams comprising only about 10 or so plays per game, Bunting and his staff have taken the time to emphasize the importance of this often over-looked unit and so far they’re yielding the fruits of its labor.
“Special teams are just that, they’re special,” Bunting said.