See what a punt can do?
Bill Cleary (left) comes up
on the short end of a 27-22 score in the opening heat final to
Ken Whitesell (left) with his
trademark badge hat deprives King Reiff of his 7th FBS plaque
and first ever WBC Grand Slam 17-14.
Are you sitting down? Good. I have some shocking news. Yes,
by now I am sure you heard that Bruce Reiff did not triumph this
year in Football Strategy - an event he seemingly owns
with more plaques than most of us have socks. But I have even
more shocking news. Are you ready? Ken Whitesell punted! And
kicked several field goals! What's so shocking about that? Well,
rookie - in Football Strategy circles Ken Whitesell is
known for a unique style of play that most would term peculiar.
He never punts. Ever. Well, almost never. 4th and 25 from his
own 1 ... take a seat punter, he's going for it. This style of
play has yielded some shocking upsets over the years and a whole
lot of losses.
Wednesday evening's heat saw a field of 26 participants vying
for the coveted Football Strategy crown. When the dust
settled two former champions, Bill Cleary and the defending champ,
Bruce Reiff were facing off for a seat in the Final. Bruce had
several close games on his way up the bracket and the beads of
sweat were evident on his brow.
Sensing weakness, Bill ran back the opening kickoff 70 yards
for a quick score. Unfortunately for him, the celebration was
cut short, as Bruce answered with a 100 yard return of his own
on the ensuing kickoff. Now that the special teams' shenanigans
were over, the two settled down for a back and forth battle throughout
the rest of the first quarter, which ended tied 7-7.
During the second quarter, both champs scored a touchdown,
but somehow, inexplicably, Bill's kicker missed the point-after.
It was a one point game as both teams headed into the locker
room for the half, Bruce 14 Bill 13. During the third,
Bruce put up a quick TD score which Bill matched on his next
possession. On the point-after, Bill's kicker missed yet again
and Bill began to suspect foul play. An examination of his kicker's
water bottle revealed that it was filled with an intoxicating
adult beverage. Undeterred, Bill sent the tipsy player to the
locker room and called upon his second string kicker to fill
Over on the Reiff sidelines there was jubilation as once again
he had managed to punch it into the endzone, making it 27 to
19. As his kicker lined up for the extra point, a poor snap botched
the attempt. One has to wonder at the special teams both these
coaches employ and perhaps during the off season they can make
some adjustments to improve that aspect of their game.
The fourth saw Bill march down the field with renewed vigor
but had to settle for a field goal bringing him within 5. On
Bruce's subsequent possession he was unable to make much headway
and Bill found himself with the ball and time enough for a touchdown
and the win. He began to march down the field, but Bruce was
ready for him and an interception ended Bill's chance for the
Final. Bruce wiped his brow and breathed a sigh of relief. He
had once again narrowly avoided defeat.
On Friday morning, only ten people crawled out of bed for
the 9:00 AM start of the second heat. By the afternoon only Paul
O'Neil and Ken Whitesell , two familar foes from the late Avalon
Hill league, remained. They knew that the winner of their game
would be facing Bruce in the Final. Neither was able to make
much headway on their initial possession. Paul, who played ball
control the whole game, had to settle for a field goal midway
through the first. Ken now got the ball and ate up seven minutes
off the clock as he marched down the field for a touchdown. As
the first quarter drew to a close Ken was up 7 to 3.
The second quarter was very frustrating for Paul: he could
not find a way around Ken's staunch defense and had to punt the
ball away. Ken, meanwhile, was able to find the endzone late
in the second and improved his lead 14 to 3 going into the half.
Coming out of the locker room Ken had first possession and, though
he was able to drive down into scoring position, he could not
find the endzone. Then, in a move that stunned all watching,
Ken called upon his kicker for a field goal. The kick was good
and Ken led 17 to 3 early in the half. The rest of the quarter
was a see-saw battle with neither team able to exploit significant
gaps in the defense. Paul was able to get a field goal late in
the third to close the gap 17 to 6.
At the beginning of the fourth, Ken again found himself unable
to get a touchdown though deep in his opponent's territory. Once
more he called upon his kicker who was able to split the uprights
for a 20 to 6 score. Four possessions later, Ken found himself
calling upon his kicker for yet another field goal raising the
score to 23 to 6. Paul, knowing that his chances of pulling out
a victory were slim, refused to give up and finally managed to
punch it into the endzone with four minutes remaining. But it
was too little, too late and Ken prevailed 23 to 13.
It was time for the final showdown, the battle that would
crown the 2006 Football Strategy champion. But this year
it was even bigger. Bruce - the plaque king - was having his
best WBC ever. He'd already won four this year, but one was a
Trial event. Bruce had his eyes set on a bigger prize - the first
ever WBC Grand Slam - four Century wins ... and only his whipping
boy, Ken Whitesell, stood in the way as Bruce made plans for
where he would hang that special 7th Football Strategy
plaque. Bruce won the coin toss and elected to receive. He was
confident, for not only did he have more Football Strategy
wood on his wall than anyone else, he had never lost a game to
Bruce began his march down the field burning up five minutes
on the clock. His drive was cut short by an interception. Ken
was unable to capitalize on it and four plays later he punted.
Bruce once again began his drive only to be stopped short by
yet another interception. With his second possession Ken fared
a little better, holding onto the ball for four minutes, but
he was still unable to crack Bruce's defense and ended up punting
again. Bruce's quarterback, visibly shaken after two turnovers
in the first nine minutes, was unable to get the offense clicking
and punted with 45 seconds left in the first. As the quarter
wound down Ken found himself with the ball in a scoreless tie.
Ken moved his team down the field with the help of some big
passes: first 10 yards, then 18 yards, and finally 30 yards.
This set him up for a flair pass into the endzone for a 7 to
0 score. On Bruce's next possession he had excellent field position
due to a stellar runback. He was able to take advantage with
two 16 yard end runs that put him onto the scoreboard, tying
the game. Upon receiving the ball, Ken began a methodical drive
that ate up seven minutes on the clock and enabled him to find
paydirt once more with a look-in pass. With only three minutes
left in the half, Bruce flew down the field using an end run
and stop-and-go pass to set himself up for a field goal. However,
the problems that plagued his special teams in his match with
Bill had not been resolved and the resulting kick went wide to
the right. The half ended with Ken up 14 to 7.
Ken started off the second half with the ball, but was unable
to make headway and punted after three minutes. After a fiery
half-time berating for their performance during the first half,
Bruce's team ground down the field yard by yard. He managed to
burn six minutes until a failed fourth down attempt on Ken's
6 yard line stalled the drive. It was now Ken's turn to creep
down the field using draw plays and pop passes. His drive ended
prematurely when he was hit by a penalty and a sack that set
him back 10 yards. He once again punted with a little over a
minute left in the quarter. It was show time for Bruce's offense
and in an air blitz he moved down the field twenty yards at a
At the start of the fourth, it looked like Bruce's air game
was going to pay dividends, but just as he could see the light,
Ken's defense read the pattern and neatly stepped in to intercept
the ball. Bruce's defense had not given up, however, and in two
minutes he had the ball again. Once more, Bruce's offense began
an impressive march down the field with big plays, only to be
stopped yet again by an interception: the fourth of the game.
For Ken it was three quick plays and out, but he still held the
lead 14-7 and the clock was down to eight minutes. The pressure
was on Bruce. Using end runs and the run/pass option, Bruce steadily
moved the ball down the field ever closer to the goal line. A
familiar Reiff whoop with four minutes left signaled a touchdown
with the flair pass. The kick was good and the score stood tied
Now was the crux of the game for Ken. He had the ball with
plenty of time to score, he just needed to find the opening in
Bruce's defense and take advantage of it. After nearly two minutes,
Ken had moved only 14 yards and it was looking grim. On third
down with 13 to go Ken called for the run/pass option and found
Bruce napping, picking up 20 yards and the first down. His next
play was a button hook pass complete for 18 yards and another
first down. Ken was now almost within acceptable field goal range
with just over a minute and a half to go. He pushed forward for
three more yards before calling his kicker onto the field.
It was a tense moment as the ball was snapped, and kicked
high into the air. Time froze as all eyes watched expectantly.
And then it was over. The kick was good and Ken was up by three
with 15 seconds left in the game. It was all over but the shouting
as Bruce headed across the field to shake hands with the new
Football Strategy champ. Ken, unable to hide his jubilation,
had finally, after years of frustration, defeated Bruce 17 to
14 and landed the coveted crown. Perhaps now, after his hard
won championship, Ken will be calling upon the services of his
kicker more often and you too may actually see him punt the ball.
But don't count on it. Ken always goes for it on fourth down.
Except for that one year