American Football

Trick Plays Can Be the Key Difference in the Playoffs

Coaches search for every last edge in the postseason—trick plays are a great way to catch your opponent off guard.

November is known for the start of sweatshirt weather, falling leaves and the end of most programs’ football seasons. This is when some coaches stretch their creativity to win games and make the playoffs. They’ll pull out that one trick play they were saving for an emergency—the game that will determine if their team makes the playoffs.

Trick plays are becoming more frequent at every level. Consider the Oct. 9 Bears-Vikings matchup on Monday Night Football. Needing a two-point conversion near the end of the game, the Bears ran a reverse that turned into an option with tight end Zach Miller pitching the ball back to quarterback Mitchell Trubisky. What?!?

Regardless of the level of play, it’s important to have a trick play in your playbook. Players love it when they get to do something out of the ordinary—especially when it works.  

Practicing tricks plays should be based on age and experience. At the youth level, I recommend a few five to 10-minute segments each week. The short periods keep the players’ interest and adds a fun wrinkle to practice.

For high schoolers, introduce trick plays on Mondays during the walkthrough portion of practice. Demonstrate it one time on the field and ask if there are any questions. On Tuesday, install it during the pre-practice segment for five minutes and run it half speed. Rep the play once against the scout team. Wednesday, run it during the pre-practice segment for five minutes at 80% and twice during the team segment. Bring it all together on Thursday by running the trick play during the scout defensive team segment. If your team is comfortable with it, put it on Friday's call sheet.

Here are a few of my favorite trick plays to keep in mind as you make that push for the postseason.

The Halfback Pass

This play has been used a lot over the years, under many different names, but it still manages to catch defenses off guard.

  1. Put in your backup quarterback, or another player that can throw, before the opposing coach or players notice (especially at the younger levels).
  2. Make sure the passer is rolling toward the throwing side.
  3. Make sure the person running the route sells that they’re attempting to block the defender.
  4. Tell the halfback to throw the football on the numbers, not up the sideline if they’re running a go route.
  5. The halfback must sell that they’re running a toss and if they don't see the player open, must be ready to tuck the ball and run.
  6. Make sure the player throwing the football sells the toss, but then backs away from the line of scrimmage before throwing.

Here’s an example of a very basic halfback pass.

The Reverse

This play is particularly effective if your team is proficient running toss plays and getting players to the edge.

When choosing which trick play to call, consider:

  • Down and distance

  • Score

  • Time remaining

  • Is the play intended to go for a big gain or simply get a first down?

Trick plays add suspense because teams are usually trying to pull off the impossible when they use them. Share your trick plays and your team videos with me through my website coachstonefootball.com or via Twitter or Facebook with #HUDLTrickPlays.

Anthony Stone is a physical education teacher at Gregory Elementary School and quarterbacks coach at Boylan High School in Rockford, Ill.  He is also the defensive coordinator and assistant head coach for the Women’s Australian National Outback 2017 Team & writes blogs for Firstdown Playbook.

In July 2016, he was named to the Hudl 100 list. He has presented at IAPHERD, the top physical education convention in Illinois, on how to get students moving with his Games Galore presentations. He has also presented at the Chicago Glazier Clinics on quarterbacks & special teams. He was the defensive coordinator for the 2010 U.S. Women’s National Tackle Football Team, winners of the IFAF Women’s World Championship in which Team USA did not allow a point in three games with an overall score of 201-0. Stone has coached in the CIFL and the IWFL Leagues as well as Beloit College (linebackers/special teams coordinator) and Rockford University (quarterbacks/wide receivers).

Stone has also coached football at the youth, middle school and high school level. He will be putting on fundamental youth football camps around the world in 2017. Please contact him to bring his “Back to the Basics Youth Football Camp” to a city near you. 

Follow him on Twitter @Coach_Stone_MT.