Facing a third-and-25 pickle and trailing by a touchdown late in the game can test the mettle of even the coolest football coach. And while most of them claim to be ultraconservative in their play-calling, five will get you two your school's coach would not hesitate to dust off the old bag of trick plays and come up with a potential game-saver.
Regardless of the defense, the old Statue of Liberty, flea-flicker or some updated version of an old street play like "go long, cut behind the blue car but stay off Mr. Gilmore's property" seem to work much of the time.
Many high school coaches admit they have a play or two designed to catch a team off guard.
Douglass coach Rex Holliday calls his surprise maneuvers "sting plays."
"We try to catch people before they're ready. Once you use them (dipsy-doodle plays), coaches have to devote precious time in their practices preparing their teams for it." said Holliday, whose team is off to a 4-0 start. "We don't use them every game, just in certain situations. The kids look forward to doing something different. We scored quite a few times on our 'stings'."
One of Holliday's stingers, preferably the first play after a kickoff, has the team deploy quickly at the line of scrimmage without a huddle. The ball is snapped between the quarterback's legs directly to the tailback who throws a long pass to the split end, who optimally has been left alone in the confusion.
"Until they (High School Federation) changed the rules forcing the wide receivers to be within 15 yards of the ball, teams would have a receiver stand or lie down just inside the sideline in front of his team," said Holliday. "When the ball was snapped, he would take off down the field and boom, before the cornerback knew what happened the ball was out there."
In the lates 1950s, Army was famous for the "Lonesome End" play. Very few high school teams today are beaten by that play because one defender is usually assigned to count players after each exchange.
"I'll tell you, those are preplanned plays," Holliday said. "We practice those over and over. We don't just call that on the sideline."
Other area high school teams have their strange plays that send players shifting and running everywhere except to the locker room. Even Dallas Cowboy coach Tom Landry might chuckle if he watched H. D. Woodson go into its spread formation following a touchdown.
The Warriors line up in kick formation and suddenly seven or eight of the players run to one side leaving just the center, holder and kicker stationed in front of the goal post. What happens next is anyone's guess.
"Sure, everybody's seen it but they don't know how it works," said Woodson coach Bob Headen, speaking carefully so as not to reveal anything. "We have four or five options off that. We only use it on extra points and it works everytime."
One coach who will testify to the Warrior Special's success is Eastern's Willie Stewart.
"That scatter mess, yeah, Bob (Headen) beat us with it last year (3-7)," recalled Stewart. "We were ready for it, too. They faked the kick and threw a pass back to the center. He was an eligible receiver and he caught the pass. Plays like that work once but not twice."
Woodson, leading Crossland 14-13 late in last week's game, went to its spread formation in hopes of gaining a safer advantage. The play worked but the official called the Woodson center for an illegal snap.
"According to Article 28 of the rule book, he (referee) was wrong," said Headen. "And I told him. It didn't look right to him and he threw a flag. It's a good play, a sure two-pointer."
Madison coach Chick Shell doesn't restrict his unique plays ("I don't think of them as trick plays" to two point conversion attempts.
"We scored on them about seven times in the last wo years," said Sell, whose team is 5-10 and ranked second in the area. "We haven't used our "cherry picker" (pass to an end who laterals back to a trailing back) or sleeper (lonesome end) or Madison Special (double reverse and pass to quarterback downfield) yet. Haven't neede them.
"We run out of punt formation a lot and I'll pick the right time to call one of our special plays," Sell said. "But I've been burned by the same plays too."
St. John's coach Doonie Waldron and T. C. Williams' coach Herman Boone have also been stung by a trick play or two and would rather not see them in the game.
"I think they should outlaw those things," said Waldron. "It's trickery. Teams are trying to get an unfair advantage. But that's my 'opinion.'"
"When you resort to plays like that, that is Plan B," said Boone. "That means you didn't spend enough time on Plan A."
It is not enough for coaches to prepare for the double reverses, tackle eligibles and end-arounds. They knew somewhere down the road and end will appear out of nowhere and catch a TD pass or a back will romp 85 yards on the old Statue of Liberty play.