Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

October 1, 2013

Column: Offense rules, but defense still matters on the gridiron

Bluefield Daily Telegraph

— Points, and lots of them.

My point for this column is points. That can best describe how high school football has progressed five weeks into the season.

Graham has scored 38, 26 and 42 points and lost all three of those games.

Bluefield has put up 60, 61 and 57 and won three times, but 29 wasn’t enough to beat Princeton.

Is defense still an important equation for a winning football team? Absolutely, but the point is simply to score more points than the other team. Any defensive play can be a big play.

Still, it’s fun to check out the stats. Out of the 110 games played by the 19 schools included in our BDTBlitz website, 42 of the teams on the winning side have scored at least 26 points, while 46 of the losing teams have allowed at least 26.

Lots of points are being scored by the offenses, but even more have been allowed by the defenses, but the overall difference, surprisingly, isn’t that great.

Those same 19 teams have combined to score 2,407 points (an average of 21.9 points a game), led by Bluefield with 207 and Graham with 203. The fewest points? Mount View with 57 and Narrows with 59.

Yet, the defenses have allowed almost the same number of points, 2,412, which also averages out to 21.9 points a game. The fewest points allowed? Honaker with 55, and PikeView with 74. The most: Grundy with 217, followed by Twin Valley with 208.

What does that prove? Simply that scoring points is fun, but defense still matters.

Much like golf, where you ‘drive for show and putt for dough’, football has traditionally taught that offense is about entertainment and selling tickets, but championships are won with defense.

It has also worked that way at the college level.

West Virginia was 9-3 for three straight seasons under Bill Stewart, but his philosophy was a solid run game and even better defense. That wasn’t considered good enough so Stewart was replaced by Dana Holgorsen, who brought a prolific offense, but a questionable defense and the results have been predictable.

It is true, defense still does win championships, just not a lot of popularity contests.

One has to wonder if that adage is becoming as out-dated as, say, the single wing.

Just kidding, Giles fans. There are times when you simply have to outscore the other team. The Spartans did that to Graham, with just enough defense to escape with the win.

My first Friday night of the football season spent out of the office was Giles and Graham at Mitchell Stadium.

Normally my task on this night is staying inside, updating BDTBlitz, and waiting until the stories, photos and phone calls start coming in around 10:30, and then endure the the most intense two hours of the week, trying to beat the ever-present deadline with a clock that seems to move way too fast.

I remember when I covered football in the Lonesome Pine District in places with iffy Internet access like Clintwood, Wise, Pound, Norton, Appalachia and Big Stone Gap.

My deadline was usually around 10:30 so I had very little time for the game to end, get quotes, figure out stats, write something up and then find a hotel, restaurant or house from where I could get a story back before it was too late.

Those, I have to admit, were the good old days.

Not sure what I would do now. High school football games are no longer two hours long, try closer to three. That is why games that start at 7 p.m. like this one did are an editor’s best friend on Friday nights.

If only everyone would play like Giles. All the Spartans did was roll up an unofficial 508 yards on offense, scoring eight of the 10 times they had possession of the ball in Friday’s 56-42 victory over the G-Men. They ran the ball 51 of 54 times, throwing the ball three times.

They averaged 9.4 yards per play, and averaged 5.4 plays per drive. Time flies when you are having fun, and they were, at least on offense.

Graham wasn’t exactly standing still. The G-Men had 522 yards on offense, including 285 on the ground and 237 through the air. They ran 14 more plays than Giles, averaged 8.2 yards per play, and 5.8 yards per possession, while scoring on six of 11 possessions, throwing the ball 19 times and running it another 45.

In fact, those two teams combined for 33 plays of 10 yards or more.

It begs another question, why don’t more teams turn to the single wing or variations of it?

In this era of high-powered, pass-oriented offenses, the Spartans have run the single wing for decades, and it continues to be productive, resulting in three state championships.

Giles threw the ball three times against G-Men, completed two, but ran for 443 yards and are currently 4-0 and one of the top Division 2 teams in Virginia.

Of course, Giles, which also had 215 yards in return yards — including plays of 50, 61 and 43 — needed all those points and yards since the G-Men just kept scoring points too, but trading touchdowns doesn’t work if you are behind.

Football is no longer ‘three yards and a cloud of dust.’ It is more like throw the ball 10 yards to a receiver in space, and let that player create on his own.

Or, in Giles’ case, let the offensive line open huge holes, and then let deceptively quick backs run to daylight.

Either way, offensive football now rules.

Defense, though, still matters. It even did on last Friday night when Giles stopped the G-Men five times, twice on punts, once apiece on a lost fumble and interception and when the clock expired at the end of the game, but that was enough for the Spartans to survive.

That is why I chose a Zach Simmons, primarily a defensive player, to interview after the game. He stripped a Graham running back of the football and recovered an onside kick, both key plays in the final result.

Why? Graham simply couldn’t stop Giles, other than with a fumble on the game’s first possession, and forcing the Spartans to turn the ball over downs in the third.

Even from the press box, you could tell that could be a crucial point in the game, with the G-Men having a chance to tie the score.

Yet, Giles linebacker Jenson Doffin had two consecutive sacks, the G-Men had to punt back to the Spartans, Giles needed five plays to build the margin back to 14, and Graham continued to trade touchdowns, but couldn’t score enough to catch up.

There was a time when high school football was a grind it out type of game. In fact, that is what Graham has long been known for, but times seem to be changing.

The question that must be asked is whether or not it makes for better football. What really wins championships, offense or defense? How about both.

I know our readers get tired of hearing about Alabama from me, and I rarely ever mention them any longer, but the Crimson Tide has won three of four games by 25 points and they’re being ridiculed for not winning big enough.

They have even lost votes in the national polls because they don’t score like Oregon, Clemson or Ohio State, or even Baylor, which plays West Virginia this week, having scored 69, 70 and 70 points in three games.

Yet, defense still has a place in the game. Put Baylor’s offense against a quality defense and West Virginia’s is much improved, and let’s see what happens.

Three years ago, Oregon got to the national championship game with its high-powered offense and was held to 19 points and lost to Auburn by three. Many folks would like to see the Ducks play the Crimson Tide and see how they would fare. Perhaps it will happen in January.

Offense in football reminds me of baseball. Chicks may love the long ball, but in the playoffs, which begin today, those sticks suddenly go quiet and it’s all about pitching and defense.

Watch the next three weeks as postseason baseball progresses and the big bats disappear. It happens every year.

It is much the same in football. When it matters most, defense matters, even if it is only for a few key plays in a game.  

Score all you want, but you had better be able to stop the other team, at least on occasion. If not, all those points in a losing effort is still just that — a loss.

Sometimes in today’s football, you simply have to outscore the other team.


Brian Woodson is the sports editor for the Daily Telegraph. He encourages feedback at