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Rules and Strategy: One Minute Warning

John Ferlazzo
Thursday June 6, 2002


In the first 29 minutes of each half, Arena Football is played at a frantic, instinctual pace that reminds you more of hockey or basketball.

In the last minute of each half, however, the game undergoes a radical change. Strategy and the ability to control ball possession by a team can tip the balance in an otherwise even game, giving one team the critical edge that results in a win. Perhaps in no other game is the last minute of the half more important than Arena Football.

Before we examine the strategy of playing the last minute of each half, let’s look at the differences in rules between regular play (RP) and one minute play (OMP). When the official blows the whistle at the end of each half to announce “One Minute Timing Rules in Effect” (our homage to the NFL’s two minute warning), the rules really do change!

For example, the clock goes from a run-time clock (only stopping for scores and time outs), to NCAA rules (stopping for first downs, out of bounds, incompletions, etc). In Stadium Football, the QB may run out the clock by taking a knee. In Arena Football the offense must advance the ball past the line of scrimmage if they are ahead in the last minute of play to run the clock.

The results of OMP rules is to increase the number of ball possessions for each team, to as many as three or more in a single minute! Give any competent offensive team 3 possessions in Arena Football, and you’re likely to see the scoreboard light up like a Macy’s Christmas display. Add timeouts taken during the OMP, as well as stoppages of play and it’s no surprise that the last minute of a half can appear to last a lifetime!

Arena Football is a game of possessions, as opposed to Stadium Football, which is a game of field position. That’s natural, considering you can score from anywhere on the field in Arena Football, at any time. A good example is Albany at Nashville a few years ago, where there was only one second left in the game after an Albany kickoff return. That was enough time for Eddie Brown to score the winning touchdown!!

All things being equal, the team with the most…and usually, that means the LAST… possession in the last minute of the game is most likely to be in position to tie or win the game.

So the #1 priority for any team in the last minute of a half should be to play for the last possession. Here’s how it can be done:

#1) USING THE CLOCK... Too often in the last minute of play, teams call timeouts with 10, 15 or 20 more seconds left on the clock in the last minute of play, instead of letting the clock run down. Run down to what, you might reasonably ask?

I’d pick 25 seconds, given reasonable field position (at or around your own 20 yard line). This gives your offense at least 5 to 8 plays to either score a touchdown, or get off a field goal, yet leaves the opponent 15 or less seconds to score (or 3 to 4 plays on offense after the kickoff return) at best. Given that you have some timeouts (and taking advantage of the clock stopping for first downs), 25 seconds really is more than enough time to score. In any case, it’s preferable for you to score last on a field goal than to score a TD only to see the opponent come right back and match that TD.

#2) LET THE OTHER TEAM SCORE…What, that’s heresy, isn’t it? Can it EVER be in a team’s favor to let the other team score?

Given the right circumstances in Arena Football, the answer is YES! In cases where your team trails by one point, and you have less than 3 timeouts in the last minute of play, the odds are that your defense will not be able to stop positive yardage by the offense. Even if you are successful, you will be out of timeouts, and nearly out of time when you get the ball back for one last desperate attempt. By letting the other team score a touchdown right away, you leave yourself enough TIME to come back down the field and score the tying touchdown (with a successful two point conversion)

Game Example: Wilkes-Barre/Scranton at Albany. Albany’s QB, Ryan Vena scrambles to his left, and runs 15 yards untouched to score for Albany…while leaving 15 seconds on the clock for the Pioneers. The right play in Stadium Football nearly allows the other team to tie the game on the last play in Arena Football, after a Pioneer return to the Albany 5 results in a last second touchdown. Only the missed two point conversion stops this from being a successful strategy.

#3) USING THE ONSIDES KICK AS AN OFFENSIVE WEAPON…. This is related to point #2, in that your team trails by five or less points in the last minute of the game. You’re about to kick off to the other team, who will try and milk the clock down to zero.

They might do this IF your kicker tries to kick the ball to the nets. However, you can foil this strategy by onside kicking! This is an offense move, which will do one of two things: Either you get the ball back by recovering the onsides kick, or you force the opposing team to score hopefully no more than a field goal attempt.

You are not allowing the opposing team to march down the field, using up your timeouts. If the other team recovers within your 10, not only have you put them in the most difficult part of the field to score, but you are forcing them to hand you the ball back after four plays. With proper use of timeouts and a stout defense, you are at worst only 8 points behind…with time left to go back down the field and score a two point conversion!!

Less often, this is used in the last minute of the first half to get the last possession, which may be critical in those offensive shootout games where neither defense has a stop.

SUMMARY… Arena Football, with its smaller field, offensive friendly rules and emphasis on ball possession over field position offers different strategy and tactics than Stadium Football (especially in the last minute of each half). The strategy and tactics may run counter to the instincts of players, who have played under Stadium Football rules and coaching their entire careers, and who are new to the game of Arena Football.

Game Notes:…I talked to Albany ConQuest head coach Ron Selesky after the game. He indicated that he does coach specific end-of-game scenarios in practice, but that patience is a priority with a team that has only been together for seven weeks.

The following two quotes are from the Albany Times-Union article written by Mark Singelais:

QB Ryan Vena : "I ran inside initially, then I bounced it outside. I don`t know if they were letting me (score) or not, but I should have been smart and just sat down. But instinct says to get in the end zone.``

Selesky: “My challenge (with Vena) is molding him from that playmaker and scrambler that he was at Colgate and adapting him to fit our game. But I`m not going to browbeat him for making a naturally instinctive play.``

Pioneer Linebacker Tierre Jones was carried off the field with a possibly fractured leg. From all of us at ArenaFan, we wish Tierre a speedy and full recovery.

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John Ferlazzo (John F.), is one of the original members of ArenaFan. He`s been the ArenaFan email list moderator since 1995, and also the Third-Party News Editor for the af2 section of ArenaFan. A Biomed Engineer (and also a systems admistrator for several medical systems), John has been involved with computing since someone threw a 286 on his desk back in 1987 and said "get the darn thing working!". He did :) Currently, John lives in Schenectady, NY with his wife Carol and their two cats, Skippy and Tisha.
The opinions expressed in the article above are only those of the writer, and do not necessarily reflect the thoughts, opinions, or official stance of ArenaFan Online or its staff, or the Arena Football League, or any AFL or af2 teams.
John Ferlazzo Articles
Rules and Strategy: One Minute Warning
6/6/2002
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3/22/2001
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