Many Monticellonians remember my gleeful celebration as my alma mater defeated the Monticello Billies in a hard-fought game a few weeks ago. As the packed home stands watched in disbelief, the Pulaski Academy Bruins never punted – not even when it was fourth and six inside their own 10 yard line!
ESPN.com notes the unusual strategy and recognizes it as innovative:
There’s a high school in Arkansas that has made the most significant football innovation we’ve seen since the veer option. This high school is tearing up its state and is on the verge of revolutionizing the way football is played. TMQ suspects that within a few years, the phrase “Pulaski theory” will be as widely known as the phrase “shotgun spread.” In a copycat sport, Pulaski Academy of Little Rock has devised an offensive philosophy that is genuinely new, and it’s winning games left and right.
During the game the other night, however, I heard mumblings around me about how “arrogant” P.A.’s coach was and the like. Yet the coach doesn’t sound arrogant here, but rather a student of statistics:
Coach Kevin Kelley reports that he stopped punting in 2005 — after reading an academic study on the statistical consequences of going for the first down versus handing possession to the other team, plus reading Tuesday Morning Quarterback’s relentless examples of when punting backfires but going for the first down works… This year, P.A. has punted just twice, both times when leading by a large margin and trying to hold down the final score. (my emphasis) In its playoff victory Friday night, (against Monticello) Pulaski did not punt, converting three of four fourth-down tries.
“They give you four downs, not three,” Kelley told TMQ. “You should take advantage. Suppose we had punted from our own 5. The odds are the opposition will take over at about the 35, and from there the stats say they have an 80 percent chance of scoring. So even if you only have a 50 percent chance of converting the first down, isn’t that better than giving the other side an 80 percent chance of scoring? For fourth-and-short attempts, the odds of converting are a lot better than 50 percent.”
I encourage you to go read the article.
While Monticello advances to the second round of the playoffs this weekend against Little Rock Christian, P.A. will face Greenwood in a rerun of last year’s 5A Championship game. Do I cheer for the Bruins or Billies? Well, this weekend, I can cheer for both.
You can also check out the interesting predicament I was in last year when P.A. played Monticello.)
Update: the New York Times ran an article about Coach Kelley in its December 16, 2008 online edition.