High School Team Removes Punt From Playbook

Fourth and 1 on your opponent’s 40. Do you go for it? Probably. How about fourth and 3 on your own 40? That’s a little less likely. How about fourth and 5 inside your own 10-yard-line? Who in their right mind would go for it? Pulaski Academy would, and that’s why they’re state champs.

Ray Guy Punting

The Arkansas school, led by Kevin Kelley, won the 5A State Championship this month with one simple philosophy: No Punting. No matter what the situation, no matter the opponent, they go for it on fourth down. Is there something to it? They’ve got some math behind their strategy, but the only math that matters is their undefeated record.

“You can just tell people are in the stands thinking, ‘You’re an idiot,’ “ Kelley said.

There’s method to his madness, though. An average NFL play gains five yards. At the high school level, it’s probably substantially more, so going for it is rarely a long shot.

If Pulaski has a fourth-and-8 at its own 5-yard line, Kelley said his explosive offense likely will convert a first down at least 50 percent of the time. If it fails to convert, statistical data from the college level shows that an opponent acquiring the ball inside the 10-yard line scores a touchdown 90 percent of the time. If Pulaski punts away (i.e., a 40-yard punt with a 10-yard return) the other team will start with the ball on the 38-yard line and score a touchdown 77 percent of the time. The difference is only 13 percent.

Before you go thinking that the team’s kicker must have the loneliest job in the world, Pulaski uses an onside kick on every kickoff.

If his team does not recover the onside kick, the opponent likely will field the kick around its own 47-yard line. On a typical kickoff, the other team usually starts around the 33-yard line.

“You’re only giving up 14 yards,” Kelley said. “And you get a chance to get the ball.”

Got all that? It may sound more gimmicky than the A-11 Offense, but results speak for themselves.