Plex and the offense ran the running play after their coach left the huddle. His new dwarven acquaintance Kalant, playing with the second string defense, came in and stopped the running back for no gain. Coach Sprout came in and made a few slight changes, shifting the play’s direction from the right to the left and making it an outside pitch instead of an inside handoff. When they ran that play, Kalant once again stopped it for little gain.
He shook his head at the dwarf’s uncanny ability to sniff out the running plays. Plex wanted to question Coach Sprout about the wisdom of putting Kalant on the second string defense. He didn’t want to openly criticize one of the coach’s decisions, though. Perhaps later, when they were alone, he’d ask about it. Instead, he listened to the coach describe the passing play he wanted them to run.
The center snapped the ball to him as he started the play in the shotgun position. He surveyed the field. Both receivers to his left were covered fairly well. His eyes snapped over to the rightt, but stopped in the middle of the field. Traag, his ogre tight end, was wide open after running right past Kalant. Plex threw the ball and hit Traag in stride. The dwarf caught up to the ogre, tackling him from behind.
Counting it off the hashmarks on the field, he saw that they had gained thirty-two yards on that play. He pumped his fist and exchanged high fives with a few of his offensive lineman. They moved down to the new line of scrimmage. Their coach ran down the field to relay their new play to them in the huddle. Plex rolled his eyes at this tactic. He couldn’t wait until they knew the plays well enough to just get the signals from the sideline.
The next few plays were almost exactly like the first ones. They ran twice with Kalant stuffing the plays both times. Then, on third down, they passed. Plex hit Traag on another deep route after the dwarf misplayed his pass coverage assignment. This time, Traag managed to evade the dwarf’s tackle attempt and made it into the open field. A couple of defenders had a chance to tackle him, but Traag bowled one over and used a stiff arm to perfection.
Plex jumped up into the arms of his closest offensive lineman, a troll named Chear. He and the rest of the offense congratulated each other as they walked over to the sideline. When he got there, he looked across the field and saw that Kalant was staring at him. From the look on the dwarf’s face, it was clear that he wasn’t happy with Plex at the moment. Plex felt bad for making Kalant look bad, but he had an obligation to the rest of the team to do his best to get them ready for tomorrow’s game. He wasn’t going to sacrifice his offense’s cohesion just to spare the dwarf’s feelings.
The first string special teams unit went onto the field and after even more instruction from Coach Sprout and the special teams coach, the whistle was blown and the point after attempt was made. There was more fanfare from the first string offense and then directions were reversed and the first string kicker launched a ball down the field to the second string.
As the plays went on, with the second string doing a decent job of moving the ball down the field, Coach Sprout interrupted less and less. It seemed like the players were getting the hang of what he wanted to see. It helped that he kept repeating the same plays. As with the first string, the second string wasn’t having much success with running plays but were finding open players downfield to connect with and pick up some yards.
Plex found that interesting. Why were the defenses better at stopping the running game? They were all tall and fast. They shouldn’t have a problem keeping up with the wide receivers and disrupting passes. Yet, time after time, the second string quarterback converted a pass on third down until he too managed to get a touchdown.
After their kicker tied the game, Coach Sprout blew his whistle and called everyone over to him at the sideline.
“Great job, everyone. As you may have noticed, I was focusing on just a few plays there and just working with the offense. Quarterbacks, I want you to run those same plays again, and this time I’m going to work with the defenses and see if we can figure out how to keep some of those passes from turning into completion.”
Plex didn’t want to question what his coach was doing but he had to ask, “Why are we only running these plays? If we do that in a real game, the other team will surely figure out how to stop us and then we won’t have practiced anything else to beat them with.”
The gnome once again flashed his knowing smile and responded, “The day is still young, Plex. We are starting small. You’ve run these plays only a couple times and already you’ve got them memorized. That’s great. Now I can call these plays from the sidelines. Each string will get one more run out while I work with the defense and then the next time through I will be calling new plays.”
The elf blushed. The answer was so obvious now that Coach Sprout had said it he was embarrassed he hadn’t been able to keep his mouth under control. He needed to work on that. It sure was seeming like the gnome had an answer for everything. Coach Sprout was certainly more organized than the elven coach had been before the teams had been split up.
Coach Sprout looked around and asked, “Any other questions?”
Plex saw Kalant flash a glare towards the gnome but the dwarf said nothing. None of the other teammates seemed interested in asking anything after they’d seen Plex get embarrassed.
“Great, let’s get back to it. Second string get out there and kick this thing off.”
The teams ran back onto the field and lined up. Coach Sprout blew his whistle and the second string kicker sent the ball flaying across where it was snatched out of the air by the first string running back on the eight yard line. The running back darted forward, angling towards the sideline. A pair of trolls and a dwarf provided cover and then the running back was off, eating up the yards until an elf managed to catch up to him, tackling the runner near the fifty yard line.
Plex pulled his helmet on and trotted onto the field.
They ran through the same process as the first drive. This time, the defense was a little stiffer against the pass. Plex and the offense still managed to punch the ball in for a touchdown. A few of his teammates were a little frustrated at the extra work it took to score that time, but Plex took it as a good sign. It meant that the defense was getting better. The better their defense was, the better their chances at winning the games.
He ran over to the sideline with the rest of the offense. While the second string offense went up against the first string defense, Plex started running over the plays with his teammates. By the time the scrimmage was over, he was confident that they had all of these first plays down pat. He was going to suggest that they go back to having the receivers run routes with him, to continue building a rapport with him, but the coach’s whistle stopped that idea before it began.
“Gather around,” Coach Sprout yelled through his cone shaped contraption.
The players did what he asked, although the minotaurs did so at a much slower pace than the rest. It was clear that they still didn’t like that they were being forced to take orders from someone they considered a far inferior being. If Coach Sprout noticed the slight, he didn’t acknowledge it. Plex gave the gnome credit for that. If their roles were reversed, he wasn’t sure he’d be able to keep himself from being irritated at their actions.
When they had all finally circled their diminutive coach, Sprout smiled. “That was a good practice, ladies and gentlemen. While there are still a lot of things that we need to clean up before this season is over, I feel like we took a few good strides forward today. If we keep working as hard as we did today, I have no doubt in my mind that we’ll win this whole thing.
“For now, we’re going to break into groups and do a few sets of cooldown exercises. Once we’re done with those, the cooks will begin dinner and you’ll have the rest of the night to rest your bodies. Along with your meals, the cooks will be handing you the updated version of the playbook. While you’re resting, you need to be studying these new plays. I don’t expect you to have the whole thing memorized by the time the game starts tomorrow, but the quicker you learn them, the better off we’ll be.
“That’s all. Have a good night, guys. If any of you want to talk to me about anything, my tent is always open.”
The team began to disperse. Plex asked some of his teammates if they wanted to practice some more on their own. A few agreed, but most laughed at him. There weren’t enough willing to participate to make the extra practice worth it, so Plex just dropped it. The others began making their way towards the cooks, but the lines were too long. He decided to let the lines die down before he went up there.
Plex grabbed a ball off the ground and launched it at the goal post. Just as the ball pinged off the pole, just where he had aimed it, the air exploded out of his lungs. He wasn’t sure what had just happened, but he found himself on the ground with a sharp pain in his chest. Above him stood Kalant, looking down angrily at him.
“You think you can make me look like a fool and not pay the price for it?”