Friday marked what some could call an interesting milestone for this writer.
After covering Delta Streets Academy’s 34-14 victory over Columbus Christian Academy, I can now say I’ve covered an eight-man, nine-man (from spending time in North and South Dakota), and, of course, 11-man high school football game.
Growing up in Illinois, I had no idea there were other states that played anything other than 11-man football. Getting told my first assignment for a paper in South Dakota in 2014 would be to cover a high school football game that had only nine players on offense and defense, the only reaction that could come out was “say what, now?” My boss at the time told me there’s such a thing as six-man football in Montana and Wyoming. I was floored. But also fascinated.
You can imagine my reaction when I moved to Mississippi more than a year ago and was told there are some teams that play eight-man football. The curiosity returned.
Fourteen months later, I was finally able to see what the hype was all about.
Because most teams that play this variation of the sport are small schools, it has to be said there’s something special about a small town or community shutting down for a Friday night to go to a football game.
And of course, schematically, there are vast schematic differences between eight-man football and its older brother, 11-man football.
— Most players are asked to contribute both on offense and defense. One of the main reasons eight-man football is a thing is because of limited roster sizes, so a running back can often double as a linebacker, and so on. Flexibility is key for these players, even on the same side of the ball — you might line up at tight end one play, then take a rep at fullback the next.
— The referees from Friday’s game called an officials’ timeout with five minutes remaining before halftime for a water break. Can’t say I’ve seen that often.
— CCA’s offense was built on its running game. That could be because the Rams are breaking in a new starting quarterback, but the typical formation CCA ran was five players on the line of scrimmage (some offensive linemen and a tight end), a fullback, a running back and a quarterback. Occasionally, the Rams would use play action and throw out of this set, hitting running backs in the flats or looking for a tight end in the middle of the field. Rarely, the tight end would line out wide, which is what happened when the Rams converted a fourth-and-long passing play for a first down.
— DSA, on the other hand, loved to spread out the field as much as possible. It would use heavy sets similar to CCA at times, but in a two-minute drill with less than a minute in the second quarter, three receivers lined up wide, a running back stayed in the backfield and only three offensive linemen were deployed. CCA countered by sending four defensive linemen after the quarterback, leaving a defender unblocked albeit also leaving each defensive back in single coverage against those receivers. DSA beat the pressure by connecting on a long passing play downfield.
— Because so many running plays are called, the games usually don’t take as long to complete. Which is nice for sports writers who have to file stories on deadline.
— This note doesn’t really have anything to do with eight-man football, but in this crappy year of 2020, I’d be remiss not to share any lighthearted moment possible. While on a kickoff, a kicker who will remain nameless whiffed on his attempt, falling down to the ground with a loud thud while the ball harmlessly traveled a yard. Seconds later, you could hear, “GET UP, CHARLIE BROWN!”
Hodge is the former sports editor for The Dispatch.