The Pulaski Academy (Little Rock, Ark) Bruins won their second State Championship under head coach Kevin Kelley this past Saturday night under the lights of War Memorial Stadium. The game was a hard fought battle between the Bruins and the Helena West Helena Cougars, a game that went down to the final possession of the game, when the Bruins were able to hold on to the ball and fend off a late charge by the Cougars, winning the game 35-32.
This game was interesting for many reason. For starters, there were several quality players on both teams. Players such as P.A.'s QB Spencer Keith, WR Neal Barlow, and linemen Austin Noonan, and Parker Mack. For the Cougars, DB Darius Winston, QB Deondra Johnson, RB Turell Williams, and lineman Eric Smiley were names that people went to the game wanting to see.
Another reason the game was interesting, was the style of offense the Pulaski Academy Bruins run. It is a philosophy that has garnered Coach Kelley a lot of attention, even at the national level, simply because the Bruins have not punted one single time in their past 20 games. They also have a tendency to kick onside kicks throughout the game. One media personality here in Arkansas compared the Bruins offensive philosophy to a heavyweight fighter who irritates his opponent with a series of jabs, and gets in his head before delivering the knock out punch. That analogy is one that sums the philosophy up pretty good.
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Coach Kelley recently sat down with ArkansasVarsity.com to discuss his offensive philosophy, and some of the reasons why he runs it, as well as to give a few thoughts on the Championship game, and the victory.
"This game was different than when we won it in 2003." said Coach Kelley "When we won it in 03, I went in wide eyed and didn't really know what to expect, where as when we went in this time, I told myself that I wanted to watch the kids and see how they reacted if we won, especially after everything that we put them through during the season preparing them for a game of this caliber."
What Coach Kelley was able to see was his team enjoying a State Championship victory over a team who had defeated them earlier in the season by a score of 46 - 29 .
Coach Kelley also had some very good things to say about the Helena West Helena players, and how they reacted after the game.
"They were upset, and we knew that." said Coach Kelley "We faced that a couple of years ago when we lost to Greenwood, but their kids showed a tremendous amount of class, and that is a reflection of the great coaching they have. Several of their kids came up to me after the game and congratulated me, some were still coming up to me 20 minutes after the game, some with tears in their eyes, but everyone of them held their heads high and showed a tremendous amount of class. Many of them were congratulating our kids on the field as soon as the game was over as well."
Coach Kelley also explained his offensive philosophy of not punting as well.
"When you decide not to punt on fourth down, it is a philosophy where you have to think about the entire game." said Kelley "When you run this type of offense, it changes your offensive philosophy, but at the same time, it changes the opposing defenses philosophy as well. A lot of times in games, the defense will stop a team on third down, and know they got the ball back, against us, they have to stop us on fourth down as well, so that changes how the defense has to think in the game."
"To us, a 3rd and 7 is like 2nd and 7 to a normal team because we are not worried about getting the first down all in one play." said Kelley "We want to move the ball, and if we get the first down, then great, but if not, we will go for it on fourth down and try to pick it up there. It makes defenses have to prepare differently as well. Plus the mindset it gives your offense after converting on fourth down is almost like when your team creates a turnover, it pumps your team up while deflating the opponent at the same time."
"It also takes pressure off of your offense on third down, and we condition our kids not to be under pressure on fourth down, so it takes a bit off of our players as well by them not having to worry about converting on third down." said Kelley "If we condition our kids to not feel pressure by going for it on fourth down, and they see that they can convert throughout the year, then it takes the pressure off of them, and puts it on the defense when we go for it on fourth down. It changes the defenses thought process, it changes their game plan, and it makes them act a little bit differently, so all of those things go into this philosophy."
One reason that Coach Kelley said he goes for it on fourth down, is a percentage issue.
"If you look at the percentages of where we are going to score touchdowns from on the football field, or the percentages of where your opponent can score from, and put it in perspective, you can see some of the reasons we do this." said Kelley "For instance, if we go for it on fourth down on our opponents 10 yard line, and don't convert, percentages say they will score a touchdown 92% of the time. So lets say we punt the ball out to the 40 yard line, and they return it and we give it to them at the 35 yard line, percentages say they will score a touchdown 77% of the time, so there is a 15% difference there, where I have a 50% chance of making it on fourth down, so I like my chances of making it on fourth down, and I think it increases your chances of winning football games."
In the State Championship game against the Cougars, Coach Kelley and his offense went for it on fourth down inside the Cougar red zone, and did not convert. The Cougars did score off of the turnover on downs.
"It is true that we turned the ball over on downs against them, and they scored within a few plays." said Kelley "It happens from time to time, and it will continue to do so, but at the same time, even if we turn it over, they have to put together a string of plays to get the ball in the end zone. They can't fumble, they can't throw and interception, but at times those things happen, and leaves a chance that they are not going to score. In the case against them, we didn't convert and they did score, and it did hurt us, but with our philosophy, everything works together for the bigger picture."
Also, according to Coach Kelley, there are some studies taking place regarding the game of football and percentages.
"There are some people are studying this now such as a professor out of Cal Poly who says percentage-wise, it is better to go for it on fourth down than it is to punt." said Kelley "This is a guy who is a professor, you know, he is pretty dang smart, smarter than I will ever be, and he says that it is better to go for it on fourth down as well. When the NFL network interviewed me a few weeks ago, they showed that NFL teams convert on fourth down around 75% of the time when they go for it." I am a numbers guy, and the numbers show I have a better chance of winning ball games by going for it on fourth down, than I do if I punt every time we see fourth down."
Speaking of percentages, Coach Kelley has a record of 68-13-1 with 2 State Championships at Pulaski Academy, a winning percentage of 83%, pretty good for a coach who never punts!
ArkansasVarsity.com would like to once again congratulate Coach Kevin Kelley and his Bruins football team on winning the 2008 Class 5A State Championship in the State of Arkansas. Keep checking back with us for all of your prep sports and recruiting news.