By SCOTT TYLER
H-P Sports Editor
Ask any football coach what the most critical down of a football game and the answer, for the most part, will be third down.
For the offense, converting third downs mean keeping drives going but for the defense, stopping a team on third down gets the offense back on the field.
In Palestine’s 63-42 Class 3A-Region III, Division I bi-district win over Silsbee Thursday night in Lukfin, the Wildcats had success both on offense and defense when it came to third downs.
“When you want to control the football and sustain drives, you have to be able to convert third downs,” Palestine offensive coordinator Tommy Allison.
And the Palestine offense did just that, converting 9-of-13 third-down tries for a 69 percent conversion rate. And each time Palestine converted a third down, the Wildcats eventually scored on that drive.
“The main thing is we executed the plays on third down,” Allison said. “We had a good idea of what the defense was going to be in and our offense did a good job executing.”
The key for the Palestine offense was putting themselves into manageable third-down situations. On its third-down attempts, Palestine was averaging 6 yards for a first down.
“On first and second down we were picking up yardage which put us into good third-down situations,” Allison said.
Only once Palestine was unable to convert on a third down and less than 4 yards. That came in the third quarter when Palestine had a 34-28 lead and just recovered a fumble.
Palestine did not convert on the third and 3, but on fourth and 1, Paul Kennedy got the first down on an 8-yard run.
When faced with third and short situations, Palestine looked to run the football and had success, including Kennedy scoring Palestine’s first touchdown in the first quarter when on third and 3, he got to the outside for a 23-yard touchdown.
When faced with longer third downs, Palestine went to the air, and converted five first downs with the passing game and gained an average of 28.4 yards on those five plays.
“When we had to pass on third down, we got good protection from our offensive line and Devin (Stephens) was able to find the open receiver,” Allison said.
In the first quarter, on third and 7, Stephens went deep to Leon Mickens for a 43-yard reception which put Palestine on the 1-yard line and the Wildcats would score one play later.
Palestine also pulled out a few tricks, going with the shuffle pass twice on third down.
“That is a play we have been working on for about four weeks but we have not needed to use it,” Allison said. “Defensively they were dropping back into pass coverage quickly so we thought we could use that play to take advantage of it.”
The first time came in the second quarter when Stephens got the ball to running back Trevlyn Reed on a third and 7 play and Reed picked up 15 yards.
Then in the fourth quarter, on third and 13, Stephens went to Kennedy, who went untouched for a 25-yard touchdown.
While Palestine had success on third downs, Silsbee struggled when it got into third-down situations. The Palestine defense held the Tigers to 4 of 11 on third downs, for a 36 percent conversion rate.
The Tigers also put themselves into tough third-down situations as Silsbee’s average third down was 10 yards.
By SCOTT TYLER