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New Format Is Off And Running As Pine Plains, Pawling And Sullivan West Win

By Rich Thomaselli
HVSR Staff

What was first reported by Hudson Valley Sports Report months ago as an “exploration” of the viability of eight-man football became reality on Friday night.

Eight area teams – Pawling, Pine Plains, Dover, Roscoe, Sullivan West, Eldred, Tri-Valley and Fallsburg – have switched to eight-man football and have their own league.

The season kicked off with three games on Friday night as Pine Plains beat Roscoe, 34-12, by rushing for almost 500 yards; Pawling shut out Fallsburg, 55-0; and Sullivan West beat Eldred, 18-0.

Dover and Tri-Valley will square off on Saturday.

For most coaches, it is a venture into the unknown. Eight-man football is generally played with two less offensive tackles and one less skill position player. On the defensive side, a combination of one less defensive tackle and two defensive backs are eliminated.

It makes for a wide open, high-scoring affair in most games.

“Eight-man has not changed the way we coach,” Tri-Valley coach Greg Botsford said. “In our eyes, whether you have six men, eight men or 11 men on the field, it doesn’t change the fact that you have to be able to run, throw, catch, block and tackle.  We’re stressing the same fundamentals we always have.  Football is football.”

Still, Botsford admitted, “The unknown is uncomfortable to deal with in football.”

Even for the fans.

“The other challenge has been winning the community over to the idea,” Pawling coach Jason Kuhlmann said. “I recognize that some will never be won over and those feelings are legitimate.  I am anxious to get the season under way so that everyone can have a look at the game in action and away from the debate.  Hopefully it can be judged for its merits.  Every player that I have has worked as hard and has been put through as many challenges as any player on any 11 man team that I have coached.  It would be a shame to put down those efforts for the sake of three less players on the field.”

So far, to a man, the eight coaches said the switch to eight-man football has immediately reaped dividends and benefits heretofore out of their reach – like having a full, equal number of players on both sides of the ball to practice.

As programs struggled to draw players at small schools, suddenly tackling dummies and water pails and large garbage cans became ‘players’ in a scrimmage.

“The entire program is less stressed about numbers. I want to feel like we have a chance to compete and are giving our kids a good experience. And we are,” Dover coach Casey Lorenz said. “I know if we played 11-man this year that would not be the case. A roster of 20 or less makes it very hard to compete and prepare. In eight-man, we can do both.”

The technical aspect of the game changes, for sure. With three less players it’s hard to defend the edge or the deep middle of the field. As Lorenz said, you have to pick your poison.

But longtime Roscoe coach Fred Ahart said it’s still football.

“After 49 years of coaching 11-man, there are obvious adjustments to be made on offense, defense and special teams,” he said. “It is still football though, and all is dependent on the fundamentals, especially blocking and tackling.”

Interesting trivia – Ahart played eight-man football in high school some 55 years ago.

Pine Plains coach Rob Scott has immersed himself in the intricacies of eight-man football ever since the concept gained momentum in Section 9. Like other coaches, the idea was a savior when it came keeping players in the program and being competitive.

With 23 players on this year’s roster, including eight sophomores, Scott said the Bombers simply would not have been competitive had it remained in traditional 11-man football and competing in Class B with the likes of Marlboro and Burke.

“Eight-man doesn’t drastically change the way I coach or prepare, but the nuances of the eight-man game are different 11-man football.  And at this point I don’t think any coach would call themselves an expert at the technical aspect of eight-man football,” Scott said. “I think everyone is excited to have the season start.  I know we are excited to show the parents and community that eight-man football is real football and will be entertaining to watch.”

One Comment

  1. Charles Streimer

    September 9, 2018 at 7:04 pm

    Great story.

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