As a young college football coach, I had the opportunity to spend some time with Vince Lombardi, then the head coach of the world champion Green Bay Packers.
He said many things I cannot remember today, but he said one thing I have thought about often and thought about almost everyday during the rest of the time I coached football.
He said that in the NFL, each team was fairly evenly matched and when it was all over you could usually look back and find two or three plays that decided the game.
He added that you want to send a team on the field — offense, defense and special teams — that plays so hard, with so much concentration and intensity, your players make those three critical plays.
During the regular high school season, Lombardi’s words don’t prove true.
The difference between the great teams and their opponents is too large, but beginning in the second week of the playoffs, it’s like the pros in that any given Friday night you not only have to have the best team you have to have the team that plays the best.
Saturday morning when you and I review the classic matchup we are going to witness Friday night at Bobby Gruhn Field we are probably going to be able identify two or three plays which resulted in the margin of victory.
Let me mention one more thing before moving on to the power numbers of this splendid bunch of young men from both teams.
In 1980, the United States Olympic Hockey team won the biggest upset victory of my lifetime when they beat Russia.
If you would go to www.greatvictory.com you will see a reenactment of the Herb Brooks speech to that splendid bunch of 18-23-year-old amateurs who were about to take on the finest hockey team in the world.
For some reason when I am about to watch some terrific kids compete in a big game, I like to review the greatest coaching speech I have heard in my lifetime.
Flowery Branch at Gainesville
GAINESVILLE (13-0): Power Rating 6.00, Average points scored 45.23, Average points allowed 7.54. Week in and week out for the last 13 weeks the Gainesville Red Elephants have played like the best Class AAA team in Georgia and there is no reason to think they won’t do the same thing Friday night.
Bruce Miller not only has a bunch of fine athletes, but they are disciplined, they play week in and week out at a high level and go into each game with a great plan.
Their plan allows them to pit their many strengths against their opponents’ weaknesses.
Miller and his staff are quick to adjust to their opponents’ game plan, and by being balanced on offense, are equally prepared to beat you with the run or the pass.
They have a defense that plays at another level and they tend to take the heart out of their opponents the longer the game goes on.
Last Friday night I was at Bobby Gruhn Field to see Gainesville beat defending Class AAA state champions Cairo 32-19.
Cairo, which I watched beat Flowery Branch 28-14 in last year’s state championship game, was not quite as good as their 2008 team.
However, they clearly were a fine football team; hard hitting, fundamentally sound and they might have been able to beat the Red Elephants on an off night.
The 2009 Red Elephants, however, have a habit of not having off nights and nobody who saw the game would have any doubt that if Gainesville played Cairo 10 times, they would probably win eight or nine of the games.
Gainesville’s running game was outstanding — able to average 8 yards per carry — and was that against a good, well-coached defense.
Cairo, who in my opinion came into the game most concerned about the pass, did a pretty good job on pass defense holding Gainesville to a 47 percent completion rate and 6.21 yards per pass attempt.
On offense, Cairo had the best running stats against the Gainesville defense this year averaging a pretty impressive 5.46 yards per carry.
On pass defense the Red Elephants were dominating holding the Cairo passing game to a 40 percent completion rate and 5.11 yards per pass attempt. The Red Elephants also had two interceptions on the night.
FLOWERY BRANCH (10-3): Power Rating 1.61, Average Points scored 39.23, Average Points allowed 24.38. As a four seed, Flowery Branch was suppose to be out of the playoffs three weeks ago, but somebody forgot to tell the players.
Friday night Gainesville will be playing a significantly improved football team than the one the Red Elephants beat 49-17 Nov. 6.
First of all, the Falcons are playing much better defense and secondly, at least for the most part, the Falcons kicking game is superior to most high school kicking games we see.
They are in the habit of performing well under pressure and making incredibly big plays when they need them.
I talked to two good friends who made the trip to Columbus, both are from Hall County and both felt that Carver-Columbus had Gainesville’s quality of talent, even though it was down a notch or two. Let me point out to you some comparisons: Against Flowery Branch, Gainesville had 449 total yards of offense, Carver had 517. Gainesville averaged 8.73 yards per carry and Carver averaged 11.52 per carry; Gainesville’s pass offense was much superior to Carver as they passed for 242 yards to Carver’s 33.
What won for Flowery Branch last Friday night in Columbus reflected the lesson I learned from Vince Lombardi and was a perfect example of a part of Herb Brooks’ speech to his Olympic team when he said that if (the Olympic team) played the Russians 10 times they may lose nine, but not the one being played tonight.
Lee Shaw will bring a great bunch of young athletes to Bobby Gruhn Field on Friday night to play what has been up to this point, the best team in the state.
In future years our society will have benefitted from the great lessons both teams have learned this season, about the team being more important than self, that they will not ever get so tired or discouraged that they will give up and that everyday, any day could be their day.
Chuck Clausen is a Hall County resident who coached high school, college and professional football for 28 years. His Power Ratings column appears each Thursday during high school football season.