Loreynzo Sanchez plowed into a pile of would-be tacklers, suddenly emerged from the other side and raced 57 yards for what proved to be the winning touchdown in Polk County’s 34-30 defeat of Hendersonville.
Sanchez said the breakout score was just a matter of keeping his focus on moving forward.
“I felt a few people come at me, but I was just running,” Sanchez said. “Then I just broke out of the tackle and kept my head high.”
Sanchez also had another 57-yard run earlier in the game, that near the end of the first half. That sprint did not produce any Polk County points, though, which is a rare occurrence this season for the Wolverines.
There’s growing evidence in the football analytics world of the impact of explosive plays (20 yards or more) on point production. A Pro Football Focus study last season replicated the findings of other studies and found that explosive plays have a substantial impact on the likelihood that a possession will produce points. That study noted that “explosive expectations are strong predictors of how well teams can design and maximize their offense to generate explosive plays and offensive success.”
Entering Friday’s Homecoming game with R-S Central, Polk County has produced 18 drives this season with at least one offensive play of 20 or more yards and has scored on 16 of those drives. The Wolverines have totalled 22 plays of 20 or more yards, with 17 of those coming on pass plays.
The value of those big plays, both on the scoreboard and emotionally, is one reason Wolverine head coach Dustin Fry keeps a special column on his play sheet each week of calls that he thinks, in the right situation, might produce a huge gain.
“I carry shots in each week,” Fry said. “Now, that’s not every single one of them (the 22 big plays). Obviously, some of that is our guys making plays on shorter calls.
“It’s just coming from who I learned under and who I was around, a lot of time our mindset was that we need to take two to three shots a half. If you hit on half of them, you’re doing really good.”
It helps to have players capable of generating explosive plays. Receivers Antonio Simpson and Keaundrae Green have been involved in 13 of the 22 20-yard-plus plays, including Green’s 47-yard pass to Sanchez in last week’s win. That fake punt set up a Polk County score.
But the names that show up in the stat sheet and highlights each week are not alone the secrets of explosive success.
“With the guys we have throwing and catching, to me, if I don’t take a chance at a shot, I’m not letting this offense live up to its potential,” Fry said. “It definitely helps having dudes.
“When you feel like you’re successful, it just breeds more confidence into calling them. I tell the (offensive line) that if you hear this protection, or if you hear this call, there is a chance the band’s going to be playing after it. So let’s make sure that we protect even harder than before. We’re only as good as our protection, so it’s harping on the O-line a bit too that there are big plays out there to be made.”
Wolverine opponents have been equally adept this season at producing explosive plays, generating 23 of those plays on 22 drives. The majority of those big plays have come in the running game, notable given that R-S Central will roll into Tennant Stadium on Friday with a run-focused attack.
But only 15 of those 22 opponent drives with explosive plays have produced any points. That’s a testament to Polk County’s bend-but-not-break philosophy as well as to the hustle of Simpson, who twice this season has chased down runners in the open field to prevent a breakaway score on drives that eventually did not produce points.
“That’s red-zone defense and really trying focus in the red zone after those big plays,” Fry said. “It’s just, OK, we’ve got to tighten up here a little bit. Our red zone defense has been pretty good.
“They get down there and they stall out a little bit and have to kick a field goal, and obviously last week and in previous weeks that has really saved us.”
With four key Mountain Foothills 7 Conference games remaining in the regular season, explosive plays could be key to Polk County’s hopes for a run at a conference title and a home playoff game. Half of Polk’s 22 explosive plays have occurred in the past two games, an indicator of the Wolverines’ growing understanding of Fry’s attack and faith in executing it.
“I definitely thing the guys are getting more comfortable and confident in the offense,” Fry said. “They feel like when they roll out there on Friday nights that, OK, we’re going to put up some points.”