In one of the bigger games of the regular season last Saturday, Cheverus forced a fumble against Bonny Eagle on the opening kickoff.

The Stags later blocked one punt and forced another errant punt they recovered for the winning touchdown.

Cheverus’ play underscored the importance of special teams. As the Stags showed, strong special teams can mean the difference in a tight game. The teams that do it well have an advantage over opponents.

“It’s one-third of the game,” said Yarmouth Coach Jim Hartman of the importance of special teams.

“We work on it a lot. It’s the reason we score so many points.”

In the playoffs, special-team play is accentuated because opponents typically are closely matched and the weather is often a factor.

The edge often comes down to kick and punt coverages, and returns.

After his team lost to Cheverus 23-20, Bonny Eagle Coach Kevin Cooper said, “Special teams was a huge factor. We didn’t do a good job on special teams and we’ve been having some problems on special teams. A football game is made up of a lot of different components.”

The Stags recovered a fumble on the opening kickoff and took a 7-0 lead just 3:12 into the game. In the third quarter, the Stags downed a punt at the Bonny Eagle 1. On the next play, the quarterback was dropped in his own end zone for a safety that cut the Scots’ lead to 20-16.

Cheverus got the winning score when a Bonny Eagle punt bounced off one of its linemen. The ball bounced around until Cheverus linebacker Ryan Casale recovered in the end zone for a touchdown. Bonny Eagle used a rugby style punt, with the punter on the run before kicking, and the close quarters of the formation backfired.

Asked how much his team practices special teams, Scarborough Coach Lance Johnson quipped, “Not enough.”

“Every coach that was at the Cheverus and Bonny Eagle game is practicing them more this week. I know that,” said Johnson.

“Mike Landry always said offense sells tickets, defense wins games and special teams win championships,” said Johnson, recalling the words of the late Biddeford High coach.

Hartman, whose team improved to 7-0 last week, said his team spends 15 to 20 minutes per practice on some aspect of special teams. It could be kick coverage, kick returns or punt blocking.

“We spend a lot of time on how to block punts,” Hartman said. “Blocking punts is an art unto itself. You have to have a sense of where the ball is going to leave a punter’s foot and how to be there.”

Yarmouth returned the second-half kickoff for a touchdown against Madison in a lopsided win. Two minutes later, the Clippers had a long punt return.

“It’s a lot easier playing football with a short field,” said Hartman. “Special teams is probably responsible for 28 of our points so far this season.”

When coaches scout opponents, they’re not just looking at offenses and defenses. They watch special teams, hoping to pick up any weaknesses.

South Portland Coach Steve Stinson said his team has worked on some part of special- teams play every day in practice since the start of preseason.

“We’re very aggressive with our approach to special teams. Having field position is something we preach,” said Stinson.

Maine Central Institute’s football team has shown that trickery on special teams can work even if done repeatedly. The Huskies have used a fake punt 10 times this season, four going for first downs and two for touchdowns.

 

Staff Writer Tom Chard can be reached at 791-6419 or at: [email protected]