September 4, 2011

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Dallas Jackson is the Senior Analyst for RivalsHigh. Email him your question, comment or story ideas to DallasJ@Yahoo-Inc.com and follow him on Twitter.

This time of year - when the warm, sticky days of summer are trying to hang on - four factors influence the final scores of high school football games.

Offense, defense, special teams ... and lightning.

Just ask the three teams in the RivalsHigh 100 that had weather delays play a major factor in the outcome of their games this weekend.

Let's be clear, no one is suggesting rules regarding weather delays should be modified in any way - they are there to keep everyone safe.

But the fact remains, as much as coaches like to prepare their teams for any scenario, there's no preparation for having your game suddenly delayed by the weather. No way to resume the flow of a game after having taken an unexpected break of at least 30 minutes.

No. 18 Duncan (S.C.) Byrnes, No. 78 Pickerington (Ohio) Central and No. 95 Warminster (Pa.) Archbishop Wood found that out the hard way.

A storm rolling through the rust belt Sunday impacted two big games.

Pickerington Central was leading No. 15 Cincinnati (Ohio) St. X, 21-17, in Columbus, Ohio, when lightning forced the players back into the locker room in the third quarter.

When the game resumed, St. X was ready. Pickerington Central was not.

On the first play from scrimmage back from the break, St. X went deep, scoring on a 60-yard pass play to take the lead and control of the game. Pickerington Central never seemed to recover. It gave up two more scores and saw a potential upset turn into a 38-21 defeat.

But don't think breaks always favor the offense.

A few hours east in Pennsylvania, No. 95 Warminster (Pa.) Archbishop Wood had the momentum and was driving for a potential game-tying field goal or game-winning score late in its game with No. 28 Pittsburgh (Pa.) Central Catholic.

Then lightning struck. Literally.

When the teams came back from the break, Archbishop Wood started moving in the opposite direction, losing yards on its next three plays before missing a 40-yard field-goal attempt in what became a 20-17 loss.

Wood Coach Steve Devlin admitted the delay came at a tough time.

"You're coming off a big play and you've got some momentum, ready to go," he told Andrew Chiappazzi of PaPreps.com.

But Devlin refused to use the circumstances as an excuse.

"Both teams and went in and regrouped," he said. "You come out anyway and it's first down, and you have to go from there."

Lightning is not something to mess around with. Nearly every state has the same rule: When lightning strikes, the event must be stopped immediately. There isn't time for "one more play."

The area must be lightning-free for 30 minutes before resuming.

The rule created a national discussion last spring when New Jersey officials pulled runners off the track in the state meet with just one lap to go.

Because the lead runner was on pace for a state record - one of the fastest in scholastic history in fact - some felt officials should have allowed the race to continue.

But Kristin Kline, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service, said the official made the right call - and encourages all others to do the same.

"As soon as you see (lightning), that's when you need to take shelter," she said at the time. "You can't say, 'We'll be OK for another five minutes.' That's not a safe thing to do.

"As soon as you see lightning, it is close enough to you to strike the area where you are," she said. "The storm clouds could be 20 miles away and the storm may not have reached your area, but it's still possible for the lightning to strike where you are."

At least the schools on Sunday got to finish their games in a timely fashion. That's not always the case.

On Saturday night in South Carolina, Duncan (S.C.) Byrnes ran out to a 21-0 lead on Myrtle Beach (S.C.) High, then saw the game get delayed - twice.

Byrnes left its offense in the locker room, never scoring again. Myrtle Beach, meanwhile, kept chipping away at the lead and eventually took a 28-21 overtime decision in a game that ended after midnight.

All of these games, however, have nothing on what was called the Lightning Bowl.

Last fall in Kansas, a massive thunderstorm that rolled through the state was so strong, every game was postponed until the next day.

All, that is, except one.

A long trip (nearly an hour) and busing issues (would one be available) made Andover and Newton ride out the storm, actually moving from the locker room to inside the nearby school for nearly a two-hour halftime.

When the teams came back onto the field, the overflow crowd of roughly 4,000 was all gone. It was just two teams and a scoreboard.

Newton, down 34-12 at half, rallied for the most improbable 49-40 victory.

Both coaches felt their teams got something from the game.

"Their guys learned they have to finish people off; our guys learned they can come back and got some confidence," Newton's Brent Glann said.

The coaches learned something, too - weather can be used as important as offense, defense and special teams.

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