Return of the Purgolder

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I saw my second Madison East Purgolder game this one against Jainesville-Craig (the same team I saw lose to La Follette).  It was Homecoming so the crowd was bigger, they had a band (alumni), and a bigger cheerleading squad.

They also had a smaller squad.  I’m not sure why, it might have been injuries, although there was no one in civies and a jersey on the sideline.  Perhaps players walked away from the frustration of a one win team.  For example the stating NT from the last game, Steven Williams (35), was not listed on the roster.

There were some players I remembered from the previous game.  Their best tackler Austin Knorr (80) now only plays receiver – he did get under a deep arching pass for a great TD catch in the first half.  Speedy Amara (22) is now splitting time with Tyrone Galvin (21), who was pretty effective carrying the ball.  There was also another new wrinkle with Gabe Surges (11) coming in as a running QB.  Overall the offense was much more effective, the line blocked better and they moved the ball quite well, but kept killing themselves with turnovers.  Meanwhile the Purgolder defense, missing several key starters, had seriously declined so the Craig Cougars were able to the move ball just as effectively, but without the turnovers – thus giving them the “W.”

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Thursday Night Lights – La Follette

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My observations from watching the La Follette Lancers take on Craig High School from Janesville on a Thursday night special (because of Yom Kippur!?!)

On offense the Lancers looked very sharp – they have a big offensive line that proved very affective in run blocking a pretty good in pass blocking too (although I suspect this is not their strength given how often they moved the pocket when they passed).  To give some props to the little recognized: tackle Kevin Little (64) was one tackle, others on the line included Alex Kiefer (77), Paul Bernhagen (66), and Joey Foerster (55).  Playing behind that line quarterback Nick Anderson (14) didn’t throw much, but had good mechanics and got the ball out in good time when did.  One player he was throwing to was Justin Tobais (9) who made an amazing catch when a Cougar DB knocked him back as the ball went past him (flagged), but he extended his arms to snatch it out of the air.  However the star of the team was running back Jaylen Plummer (4) who ran all over Craig.  He is good at finding holes in tight traffic inside and had the speed for a breakaway 69 yard touchdown.

Special teams were tough to judge because they were barely on the field.  There was only one punt in the entire second half – and that was from Craig.  The Lancers also only tried one PAT and missed it so badly they went for two on their next touchdown when they were already up by eight late (so a PAT would have put them up by nine – 2 scores).

As you can probably guess from the one punt comment the defense did not play as well as the offense.  The player who stood out the most was their big defense tackle Jon Wade (72).  And I do mean big – 300lbs according to the little roster sheet they hand out at the game (which is big for high school, this isn’t the NFL).  He’s surprisingly effective the passrush, actually the whole D-line was.  They also occasionally blitzed linebackers to make it even tougher on their quarter.  However they were surprisingly easy to gash with the run.  The line wasn’t blown off the line most of the time, there were just cutback lanes while the linebackers were nowhere to be found.  This might be a systemic flaw – the defense was more likely to slash into the backfield and get a tackle for a loss than stuff the Cougars at the line – which makes me think they run some sort of penetrating one-gap defense (just not well).  Between the ability to run and passrush Craig barely got the ball in the air so I can’t access the secondary.  The defense have an interception, but that was a linebacker cutting underneath a late throw.  Incidentally that was on a two point conversion attempt – which apparently the defense can’t return 100 yards for two points of their own un Wisconsin High School rules because the refs blew the whistle almost the second the guy secured the pick.

Take all of this with a grain of salt though, they entered 0-3 and beat a Craig team that had just one win itself.  They probably would not be as good against better competition, but the Lancers looked pretty polished – much more than East (to be fair I saw their first game of the season – but by the same token the said could be said for their opponent that night and East is also currently 1-3).

Football 101:  An impressive two come out a highschool game

1) When an offense “moves the pocket” it has the quaterback move to one side of the field so passrushers on the far side of the field have a long way to go.  If you do it intermittently it can slow down a passrush – and it is usually used if the DL has been hitting the QB.  It’s weakness is it cuts down the field for the passing game because you won’t have your QB throw back across the length of the field (those balls take a while to get there and often result in picks).  Sometimes teams with inexperienced quarterbacks will move the pocket for just that reason so the QB has easier reads.

2) A “One Gap Defense” is one where defensive linemen pick one hole (hole = spot between their offensive linemen – so the gap between guard and the center for example) and blast through it.  In a two gap defense the defensive linemen are responsible for two gaps – so they have to stand up the blocker (usually an offensive lineman) watch both sides and close down the gap the offense is trying to go through (on a run).  One gap defenses will lead to more penetrations and thus tackles in the backfield (and passrush), but also more big plays when a runner blows past linemen moving quickly upfield.  It also means the linebackers have to play closer to the line a little – opening up passing lanes behind them (but also there is more passrush).  3-4 defenses require their linemen to play two gap.  Most defenders prefer to play one gap as they are more active and take less of a beating battling with blockers.

Fans: The Lancer drew a bigger crowd than East.  You could say that its because Lussier Stadium is by La Follette High, but East is a ten minute drive away.  East’s students all sat in one section and did rehearsed cheers – I don’t think led by formal leaders.  It was impressive – I had never seen that before.  As an added bonus it kept the students segregated away from the crowd, which was nice because at La Follette they were all over the place.  For most high schoolers no on the team a game is a social event, so they run around and can be distracting.

The Lancers had a bigger cheerleading squad and a separate dance troupe.  Which performed only at the half.  For one five minute song.

Fight Night Lights Bonus!! Eastside Purgolders

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I saw the East Madison High School Purgolders play the James Madison Memorial Spartans.  What is a Purgolder you ask? It’s an abbreviation of Purple and Gold – their colors.  They do have “Pepe the Purgolder” as an indistinguishable animal on a few fan shirts.

The Purgolders are a small roster, both in terms of numbers and roster size.  This is especially noticeable on their offensive line where they could not provide time for their QB to pass.  They also often just blew assignments and let rushers come free.  They were even worse on special teams where the longsnapper missed so many hikes they pulled him.

The Purgolders big star is runningback/returnman Ebrahim “Speedy” Amara (22).  But the line could not open many holes for him to get him in the open.  And they overuse him.  The coaches need to get a little smarter with him.  For example they put him the Wildcat for a whole series rather than a play, but did it deep in their own end so the Spartans had time adjust before they got a score – why not spring that when you have a short field (which they had earlier in the game but came away with nothing – and were shutout in the game)?  Their defense also looked lost lining up a few times – the coaches were screaming from the booth above me.

A few other players other players stood out.  Jordan Daminguez (3) made few good plays as a DB, but was erratic.  Steven Williams (35) on the DL – mainly nosetackle in a 3-4, which worked fairly well – got good penetration one several plays.  So did Max Larson (8).  Their grittiest player was Travis Turnquist (26) who was one of, if not the, best receivers they had (because the other guys dropped several balls) as well as one of their best/most consistent defensive backs.

But their most impressive player was defensive back Austin Knorr (80) who was a great tackler.  He got everyone to the ground in an instant.  And he’s not that big – listed as 5’11” 150.  But he had the best fundamental tackling skills I have ever seen on a high school field.

Memorial’s quarterback, Joe Ferguson (6), was a good scrambler.  There best offensive play was when the passrush forced him to scramble.

Overall neither team was very impressive, I’ve seen several high school teams in Maine and Florida that were noticeable better.