Home > Football Huddle: Onside kicks a part of playoff teams’ arsenals | USA Today High School Sports

Football Huddle: Onside kicks a part of playoff teams’ arsenals | USA Today High School Sports

Clinton DeSouza received some advice from a friend last week.

Spackenkill High School's Camron Abalos points out a tackler as Dover's Colin Belanger pursues during Saturday's game in Poughkeepsie.

Spackenkill High School’s Camron Abalos points out a tackler as Dover’s Colin Belanger pursues during Saturday’s game in Poughkeepsie.

The Spackenkill High School football coach consulted with Sean Keenan, and the Millbrook football coach gave DeSouza a suggestion that paid off multiple times: In their Section 9 Class B quarterfinal game against Dover Saturday, the Spartans attempted three onside kick nearly every time they kicked off.

Spackenkill was successful in three of those attempts to deny the Dragons’ possession, and the Spartans converted two of those three recoveries into touchdowns.

It was a big reason why Spackenkill is one of four area Section 9 schools still alive in the playoffs, along with fellow Class B foe Marlboro, Class A’s New Paltz and Class C’s Millbrook.

“We tried doing onsides, we perfected it,” said Spackenkill kicker Kyle White. “I’ve perfected it by just practice. Practice makes perfect, I guess.”

An onside kickoff is a designed play in which the kicking team deliberately kicks the ball short. For legal execution, the ball must travel at least 10 yards in order for the kicking team to recover.

DeSouza learned the formation and philosophy it from Keenan. And Keenan learned it from another coach.

That would be Kevin Kelley, the head coach of Pulaski Academy in Little Rock, Arkansas. Kelley has done away with conventional football thinking. He always attempts the onside kickoff — and the chance to regain possession — rather than boot the ball deep and make the receiving team try its luck running it back.

Upon learning Kelley’s special teams strategy, Keenan incorporated it into Millbrook’s style and has used onside kicks liberally for the better part of the last four seasons. Like White, Keenan’s kickers, Christian Williams and Cameron Bilyeu, have mastered the art of the onside kickoff.

“We practice it a lot and they do a real good job,” said Keenan, whose second-seeded Blazers play No. 3 Chester in the Section 9 Class C semifinals on Saturday in Middletown. “It bounces two times and skips up into the air. As long as I’m coaching, we’re going to do it. It’s a worthwhile philosophy and statistically it’s proven it works for us.”

“The idea is, we’re in attack mode,” said DeSouza, whose third-seeded Spartans will face second-seeded James I. O’Neill in the Section 9 Class B semifinals on Saturday in Middletown. “We’re not going to sit back and kind of play passive.”

In one game against Sullivan West, the Blazers recovered three straight onside kicks and led 22-0 before Sullivan West even had one possession. Keenan estimated that his team’s success rate of recovering its kicks is “about 20 percent.”

To him, that is satisfactory. Good enough, in fact, that he said he plans on employing the same strategy throughout the playoffs.

“We did it against Woodlands in regionals (last year). We always do it,” Keenan said. “When you kickoff and get it, you get extra possessions, really. I guess it’s the ‘go for broke’ attitude but it makes sense. If you don’t have the ball, you can’t score.”

Spackenkill High School's Alex Strom nabs a pass during the Spartans' home win over Dover on Saturday.

Spackenkill High School’s Alex Strom nabs a pass during the Spartans’ home win over Dover on Saturday.

The winner between Millbrook and Chester will face the winner between No. 1 Liberty and No. 4 Sullivan West on Nov. 7 at Kingston’s Dietz Stadium. The winner between Spackenkill and O’Neill would take on the winner between top-seeded Marlboro and No. 4 John S. Burke Catholic, also on Nov. 7 at Dietz Stadium.

Meanwhile, in Section 9 Class A, New Paltz and Cornwall will vie in a Friday night semifinal at Dietz Stadium. In Section 1 Class A, third-seeded Our Lady of Lourdes will visit second-seeded Eastchester in the semifinals on Saturday. Defending Section 1 Class AA champion John Jay, this year’s No. 2 seed in the tournament, will host No. 3 Clarkstown North in the semifinals this weekend.

Top Week Eight Game

Our Lady of Lourdes 37, Somers 22 — In advancing to the Section 1 Class A semifinals in its first year since being bumped up from Class B, Lourdes was impressive both offensively, in which Luke Timm had two receiving touchdowns and Joe Scaglione had two rushing scores, and defensively, as Chris Mulvey “controlled the whole middle,” Lourdes coach Brian Walsh said.

Week Eight Scoreboard

Goshen 13, Poughkeepsie 7

Kingston 33, Roosevelt 22

Walter Panas 19, Beacon 17

Section 1 Class AA quarterfinal: John Jay 28, Arlington 14

Section 1 Class A quarterfinal: Lourdes 37, Somers 22

Millbrook 40, Fallsburg 12

Highland 35, Ellenville 6

Sullivan West 42, Haldane 18

New Paltz 30, Monticello 6

Pawling 33, Tri-Valley 14

Ketcham 30, North Rockland 6

Red Hook 62, Pine Plains/Rhinebeck 7

Section 9 Class B quarterfinal: Spackenkill 48, Dover 32

Top Week Nine Matchup

Clarkstown North at John Jay, Date TBA — A trip to the sectional finals will be on the line when two one-loss teams, both blemishes coming at the hands of New Rochelle, meet in Wiccopee.

Week Nine schedule


Section 9 Class A semifinal: Cornwall vs. New Paltz at Dietz Stadium in Kingston, 7 p.m.


Section 9 Class C semifinal: Chester vs. Millbrook at Faller Field in Middletown, noon

Pawling vs. Roscoe, 1:30 p.m.

Section 9 Class B semifinal: Burke vs. Marlboro at Dietz Stadium in Kingston, 4 p.m.

Section 9 Class B semifinal: Spackenkill vs. O’Neill at Faller Field in Middletown, 4 p.m.

Section 1 Class D final: Tuckahoe vs. Haldane at Pace University, 7:30 p.m.

Section 1 Class A semifinal: Lourdes at Eastchester, TBA

Dates to be announced

Section 1 Class AA semifinal: Clarkstown North vs. John Jay

Red Hook at Saugerties

Roosevelt at Wallkill

Kingston at Poughkeepsie

Monticello at Highland

Rondout Valley at Pine Plains/Rhinebeck

Ketcham vs. TBA


Three of the top football performances in Week Eight. Nominate performances by using #PJTop3 on Twitter.

Kenny Verney, New Paltz football — Verney had 12 tackles, an interception, a sack for a safety and ran for a touchdown as the Huguenots locked up a playoff spot.

Ryan Schumacher, John Jay football — The quarterback turned away rival Arlington in a Section 1 Class AA quarterfinal by running for three scores and throwing for another.

Al Dockery, Ketcham football — In beating North Rockland for the first time “in over 30 years,” according to coach Bryan Hogan, Dockery tossed four touchdowns.

Football Huddle appears every Monday in the Poughkeepsie Journal, breaking down the weekly stories on the gridiron. A.J. Martelli: [email protected], 845-437-4836, Twitter: @AJM_PoJoSports

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