There was no surprise on what the focus would be Monday when the Pioneers hit the practice field. Special teams took center stage, with Warren County trying to correct the many miscues which led to Friday’s 28-21 loss in Lawrence County.
Warren County (2-2) lost two fumbles on kickoffs last week. The Pioneers also had two punts blocked, along with another partially deflected. Lawrence County capitalized off one fumble – the opening kickoff – to take an early lead, then recovered the first blocked punt in the endzone for six points.
Through four games, the Pioneers have had four of their 14 punts blocked or deflected and lost fumbles on kickoff returns three times (all coming in losses). Cleaning up special teams has become a focal point.
“We watched it on film and the guys saw their performances. We actually put a lot of emphasis into special teams last week as well, but the kids are still learning the importance of it,” said coach Matt Turner. “We watched the whole game from beginning to end and saw every play 2-3 times with coaches breaking it down. We win each game – both our losses – if we take special teams out of the game.
“Our lack of experience shows, but we have to overcome it. We have to burn the ship and move on.”
The team spent extra time on catching kicks in Monday’s practice, getting extra players more reps to see who could handle duties on game nights. Also, the coaching staff let lineman get a shot at fielding kicks and punts, hoping to build unity among the group.
“We spent extra time on the jugs machine to let the kids catch. We let the people who we’ll have back there work and some of the people who aren’t back there do it too,” said Turner. “Sometimes you’ll hear people say, ‘just catch it,’ but it’s not that easy. We showed everybody the difficulty of it and got everybody involved in the process.”
Losing two fumbles on kickoffs Friday dampened what has otherwise been one of the more successful plays for the Pioneers. Warren County has averaged 25.4 yards per return, with senior Eli Buchanan accounting for returns of 58, 47 and 40 yards in four games.
Teams are already scheming ways to keep the ball out of Buchanan’s hands, as evidenced by Lawrence County’s four short kicks Friday.
Now it’s Warren County’s time to adjust.
“We’ve been very dynamic on kick returns. If they’re not going to kick it deep, we’re going to make some personnel changes,” said Turner. “We’ve already moved some guys around to put more speed on the field.”
The Pioneers are also perfect on PATs this season (11-for-11) and average 37.1 yards per punt on the ones which have gotten off clean. Added to two blocked PATs – both by CJ Taylor – and the team allowing just 15.1 yards on kickoff returns allows Turner to point to the positives.
“Some of our special teams are playing well enough for us to win. As a coaching staff, we’re going to evaluate and make sure we have the proper personnel. We’ll continue to emphasize each day to get better across the board and become more consistent,” said Turner.
Warren County returns to action this Friday at home against Blackman. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.