Special teams not to be overlooked
Dec. 20, 2012 at 6:20 a.m.
It's said "offense wins games, but defense wins championships."
There are not too many pithy comments about the kicking game, especially at the varsity level. Perhaps, it's because there is not as much attention paid to special teams.
"I think it's because most of the games are not really that close in high school," said Adolfo Cordero, Refugio's junior kicker. "Most of them are blowouts or coaches don't believe in their kickers, which is why I believe they don't put them out there."
This weekend nine other teams will join Stephenville with the designation of state champions. Some like Houston Lamar used its defense to make it to Dallas, Cedar Hill and Gilmer used offense, while Munday and Cameron Yoe used a combo of the two.
This year, programs did not use exceptional punters and kickers to aid their run to a UIL state championship.
None of the 20 teams that played for UIL championships this year placed a specialist on the Associated Press first or second team all-state teams.
Stephenville's effective offense in the Class 3A, Division I championship game last Friday meant the Yellow Jackets did not punt the football or attempt a field goal in their 70-35 win over El Campo.
But, that's not to say the kicking game didn't play a role in that comfortable win. Stephenville used high and short kickoffs to neutralize any chance of long returns from El Campo.
The Yellow Jackets kicked off 11 times, just five were returned and El Campo produced 51 return yards from those returns.
Having toe meet leather may be one of the easiest parts about special teams.
Cordero has worked extensively with long snapper Colton Carroll and holder Brett Davis to perfect his timing.
Refugio's kicker scored 107 points in 2012 on 101 extra points and two field goals. This was after a sophomore season where he kicked 105 extra points as the Bobcats run to the Class 2A, Division II title.
It may seem like an eternity to some, but the best units execute the snap, hold and kick in 1.4 seconds.
"Everything has to be perfect," Cordero said. "The snap has to be in his hands and the ball has to be on the tee. Right when he snaps it, I take off. I trust these guys because I've been with them for two years."
Successful kicking attempts require a snapper and someone to hold the football. Successful punts involve someone who can snap a ball 12 to 15 yards, and a team of players who can defend the return.
Victoria East never attempted a field goal this season and missed 12 extra points in 11 games, but the Titans had one of the best kick return units in South Texas with Deondric Lofton and Jonathan Ortega.
The Titans averaged 18.8 yards on punt returns, and Lofton returned three kickoffs for touchdowns. Toward the end of the season, teams would kick the ball high and short to keep it away from Lofton.
"I feel like they respected that I could return the ball," Lofton said when asked about it this week. "Then again, I kind of got mad that they didn't kick it to me."
Calallen made that mistake in early November. After Lofton returned a kick 95 yards, the Wildcats never kicked it to him again in their 77-27 win.
Lofton said the Titans worked on special teams more in practice this year than previous seasons, which helped the kickoff team pick up blocks. When teams did kick it deep to Lofton, he averaged 33.6 yards per return.
East, Calhoun and Edna are among the areas teams whose playoff losses hinged on an untimely missed extra point. Edna has lost in the bi-district round each of the last two years by a single point - and missed an extra point on both occasions. The return game bit Hallettsville in the playoffs this year.
Ahead of the Brahmas' Class 2A, Division I quarterfinal game against Cameron Yoe, head coach Tommy Psencik realized special teams could play a role in that contest.
"Like I told them 'the kicking game is one third of the game and we failed in that department. We can't have that happen again," Psencik said on Dec. 5.
Two days later, when Hallettsville was eliminated by the Yoemen, the game hinged on a 94-yard kickoff return to start the second half. At the time, Hallettsville trailed by eight points. The return opened up the deficit and the Brahmas were never within a touchdown again.
"We made some mistakes that certainly helped them out. Whether it be penalties, kick returns, fumbles," Psencik said after the 38-19 loss. "Those are just things you have to take care of. You have to be consistent in taking care of the ball in the kicking game and the kicking coverage. Cameron is a good ball club. They are there for a reason. We wish them the best of luck."
That luck has extended to Cowboys Stadium as the Yoemen are one of the schools playing for a state championship.
East Bernard was another program in search of a state championship this weekend. They lost in the regional round in 2011 in part because it missed an extra point after scoring a late touchdown.
This year, the Brahmas used three Derrick Rucka field goals to beat Blanco 16-0 in the regional round. Rucka and junior Justin McGuire have played their part in East Bernard's playoff run.
Of course few in East Bernard need to be reminded of the importance of special teams considering it's the alma mater of Oakland Raiders punter Shane Lechler.
Refugio's Cordero didn't know that about Lechler's roots. But he does idolize Lechler's teammate, Sebastian Janikowski - who is generously listed at 6-foot-2-inches and 250 pounds -because he's proof that bigger kickers can be effective.
"When it comes down to it, they will win you games," Cordero said. "There will be games you need your kicker and you will need to put him in and he'll make it."