If there was a penalty flag thrown after the whistle Friday night, you can be sure the Poplar Bluff sideline made a collective groan.
Just like seeing a flag near the line of scrimmage and knowing that there will be a holding penalty called, or that a pre-snap whistle will mean a 5-yard penalty on the offense, a penalty flag flying at the end of a play is usually a bad sign. It’s likely going to mean 15 yards for one team because of a personal foul or unsportsmenlike conduct.
When those penalties are against the Mules, the players know it will mean more than yardage lost during the game.
“We got to clean that up,” Poplar Bluff coach David Sievers said this week. “We’ve instituted some new team rules concerning the unsportsmenlike.
“It’s just a matter of getting the kids to play a little more controlled and keeping their game under control.”
Penalties have been a concern after the Mules were flagged six times for personal fouls or unsportsmenlike conduct at Farmington last week.
Through six weeks, the Mules already have more penalty yards than all of last season (443-439).
Of the total penalty yards prior to Friday night at Cape Central, 42% have come from personal foul or unsportsmenlike penalties. Through the first four games, the Mules picked up nine personal-foul calls while the only one called at Battle was offsetting. (In Friday's game at Central, the Mules were flagged once for an unsportsmanlike penalty.)
“It’s something we’ve got to do a better job of and we got to hold the kids more accountable for their actions and that ultimately falls on me,” Sievers said.
During practice Monday, the team ran 100-yard sprints for each personal-foul penalty and the team will do that going forward, Sievers said.
Players will also be on the sideline after picking up those penalties with the length determined by the severity of the call. Coaches will use the sideline video equipment to determine that and make sure the correct player is removed, Sievers said.
“If we figure out it was legitimate on their part then they’ll sit for awhile,” Sievers said. “If it was one of those, it’s kind of questionable then we’re not going to throw a blanket (punishment) over the entire thing.”
There’s a fine line between playing hard to the whistle and picking up a penalty. The action of one player can affect the entire team just as the team will be judged, fairly or not, by those actions.
Officials will pull out their flag whenever they see those actions. Football on Friday night has a different set of rules than the kind played on Saturday or Sunday. There’s also a different end goal on Friday night, and it’s not about championships or highlight reels.
The very first point of emphasis for football rules that the National Federation of High Schools put out this summer was sportsmanship. The other two were intentional grounding and line of scrimmage formation.
“Good sportsmanship does not occur on its own,” the NFHS statement said. “Only with specific planning and coordination by all constituents is good sportsmanship achievable.
“Good sportsmanship is about respect. Good sports win with humility, lose with grace and do both with dignity.”