Victory formation debate: Coaches weigh in

By David Purdum / For the AJC

Forget the refs, the most polarizing topic of the football season so far has been the acceptable level of effort used when running the always-thrilling quarterback kneel down.

Two weeks ago, New York Giants coach Tom Coughlin got very grumpy after the Tampa Bay Buccaneers bull-rushed and knocked over quarterback Eli Manning on a kneel-down play.

Coaches, players and members of the media all took sides on the issue. There was no definite winner. The absolute proper way to execute and defend the victory formation is still up for discussion.

The debate boils down to one question – At what point does sportsmanship trump the desire never to give up?

The answer, in my opinion, is the scoreboard. If it’s a one-score game, anything goes. The offense is allowed to continue to attempt to win the game until the clock runs out. The defense should be afforded the same opportunity.

If it’s more than a one-score game, then the defense should accept defeat and allow the offense to kneel down.

My opinion differs at the high school level, though. I believe the victory formation should be used sparingly. For the majority of players, high school is their last chance to play competitive football. Some backups may never get in a game their entire career. They just want to play.

If I was coaching, even if a game got out of hand, I would insert my backups and continue to run offense.I’ve always thought taking a knee in most cases was more insulting than continuing to play. (Full disclosure: I once ended a competitive family touch football by kneeling down. Grandma was so mad.)

Some area high school coaches agreed with me; others didn’t. But their attention to detail coaching the play was impressive.

At Brookwood High School, coach Mark Crews puts two backs close to the quarterback. They are responsible for making sure the snap is secure and then protecting the quarterback.

“We have our fastest guys 15 yards behind the formation to serve as a safety,” said Crews, whose 2-1 Broncos travel to Lilburn for their annual Gwinnett showdown with rival Parkview on Friday. “We work on how much time we have to kill and how most effectively to kill that much time.”

Twice, Johns Creek coach Mike Cloy has called a fake kneel-down on a play before the end of the first half. He instructs his quarterback to pretend to take a knee then stand up and throw a pass in an effort to catch a defense off guard.

“It worked once,” said Cloy, whose undefeated Gladiators face Chattahoochee this week in a big Region 6-AAAAAA showdown. “Would have worked the other time, but the ref thought the quarterback’s knee hit the ground.”

Here are some more takes on the Great Victory Formation debate from area coaches:

“In my opinion it’s a class issue. We tell our players to expect the other team to act without any class. They’re beaten, they don’t like it, and the formation is necessary, but at the same time it’s sort of a necessary “rub in your face.” We won, and there is nothing you can do about it. So, it is likely to elicit a negative response… be ready for it and have some class of your own. Block, Start the clock, check your emotions and win with class. If you expect the other team to act out in that situation and have your team prepared for that, then you hopefully can be proactive in avoiding problems.”

-          Brookwood’s Mark Crews

“We work on “Victory” formation each week and go over it as a live play.  We had to actually use it in our first game, which was a one score game.  If we had taken that play off, it’s possible that anything could have happened in a negative way. It’s a live play, in my opinion, and the defense can go as hard as they do any other snap.”

-          Central Gwinnett coach Todd Wofford

“We teach/run the Victory Formation and tell the kids that “anything goes” on that play so BE PREPARED! You’re right on target regarding the Giants – Bucs game. My guess is the Giants got caught off guard and it almost cost them. If it had been a two-score game or better, their concern would be justified. But down only one score? I applaud the Bucs for playing to the final whistle.

-          Blessed Trinity coach Tim McFarlin

“I definitely think the game situation plays a role in how a coach approaches this type of play. However, we never coach our kids to concede anything, but at the same time we elevate poise and self-control to high levels throughout our program and would expect our players to demonstrate these ideals under all circumstances.”

-          Wesleyan coach Franklin Pridgen

“If it is a close game, we teach the defense to play to the whistle and try to get the ball.  If we are on offense, we expect them to be ready and block to the whistle to protect the ball no matter what the score is.”

-          Lassiter coach Jep Irwin

5 comments Add your comment

Plowboy - Viking

September 26th, 2012
1:00 pm

In my opinion, there’s no such thing as running up the score!!! That kind of thinking is for losers, play the game until the clock hits zero…..then shake hands and go home!!


September 26th, 2012
3:20 pm

In the 2010 season, Northwest Whitfield was playing at Rome with a 17-14 lead and just under two minutes to go in the game. Northwest went into victory formation near midfield, which was unusual since they had lined up in a spread formation all night long. The snap was fumbled by the quarterback. A Rome linebacker picked up the ball and returned it for a touchdown, giving Rome the 21-17 win. Rome made the playoffs that year and Northwest didn’t with this game the deciding factor. It can backfire on teams.


September 26th, 2012
10:34 pm

Friday night Norcross was up 36-0 over Duluth in the 4th quarter with a running clock. With less than 3 minutes left in the game Norcross had there backup quarter back in. In an effort to get him some throwing practice in, he made a pass that was picked off around the Norcross 40 yard line. It was returned for a touchdown and as a result, Norcross did not get the shutout. But instead of just focusing on preserving the shutout by running the ball, Norcross still tried to play normal offense with the backups in, to get them practice.


September 27th, 2012
8:01 am

No such thing as running up the score? Please! In big time High School football we are still dealing with children/young men, and must set the right example. In a blowout game each player needs to go all out on every play. However, the coach needs to do the right thing in playing the reserves and dialing back the playbook. If the 3rd string back runs up the middle 50 yards for another score, or the 3rd string linebacker stops him for a loss, either play may be the highlight of their career. This season our 4-0 team is averaging over 30 first-half points per game and less than 14 in the second due to playing reserves and shutting down the high power play calling. There is no need to hang 60 points on the opposition…. until we play Walton and then 80 will not be out of the question!


September 27th, 2012
7:21 pm

If the 2s and 3s are scoring, that is not running up the score, but if you leave the 1s in and get a cheap shot injury, well there you are.