By BOB PADECKY
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
LAYTONVILLE — The dog, well, at first it didn’t look like a dog Friday night. Black and white, quite cylindrical, it looked like one of those fluffy, rotating shoe-shine spindles you see at airports for a quick buff. One of the game officials spied it running onto the field and usually you don’t continue to play football when there’s an animal underfoot. Ah, but this was eight-man football, in the country, where the threshold of tension is considerably lower than in other places.
The game official stared at the pooch romping around the 10-yard line on the west side, saw a man running after it, judged the dog would be caught soon and so, with 7:53 left in the first quarter, the official shrugged, deciding to let Laytonville and Mendocino play on.
Sure, the two undefeated high school teams were playing for the NCL III title, serious business, of course. But these were two small schools playing in a small town. In those surroundings, removed of neon and glitz, the game, the players, the people, everything felt more intimate. What might be ignored in a big city wasn’t here. Everything stood out.
Like a single voice from the stands screaming at the officials. One screaming voice above five others sounds like a ship’s bell compared with the blending of one voice among 100 of — how shall I say — enthusiasts? One game official told me, unlike other places, you could hear every word here, proving quite clearly the people in the north country have quite a florid imagination.
Like the “Pour Girls Coffee” shop a few blocks away. I suspected something was up when I saw the hair salon — “It Takes Two To Tangle.” Yeah, if you’re going to work in Laytonville, you’d better have an imagination to get people to turn off Highway 101 as they speed through. Because there isn’t a single red light to stop you. Which goes a long way in explaining why you had to do a double-take when you saw the stuffed monkey in a bird cage at “The Sacred Dog,” a collectibles store.
Quirky, odd, different, this town of 1,133 souls offers the perfect antidote to lowering the thermostat of not only stress but reshaping the way we view football.
“In the beginning I didn’t think I’d like eight-man football at all,” said Laytonville quarterback Russell Kaser.
The field is 80 yards long, not 100, with the midfield stripe at the 40-yard line. It is also 40 yards wide, not 53. Until last year, Laytonville was playing the 11-man game and the field was 100 yards long.
So, enter another quirky Laytonville fact: The goal post in the east end zone cannot be used for an extra point or a field-goal attempt because it resides out of the field of play; it is the goal post from the 100-yard field. The school decided not to uproot it and move it closer to the 80-yard eight-man field because money could be saved. So if a team wants to kick an extra point or attempt a field goal to the east goal post, the team turns around and points to the west for the kick.
It sounds like a lot of work and it is, which is why in Friday’s game and in all others, teams ran or passed for two-point conversions.
Just to make sure no one forgets the east goal post is not to be used for kicks, the east uprights themselves are about half the height of the west uprights.
All of which leads everyone to the same conclusion when they first see the eight-man game. You better pay attention. Maybe it’s psychological, but an 80-yard field appears dramatically smaller, postage-stamp size, and 40- and 50-yard gains are common.
“It’s faster-paced, a more fun game,” Kaser said. “In this case, different is good. It’s like Arena Football.”
With Arena Football-like scores. Laytonville had an 86-12 (Round Valley) game and a 72-0 (Anderson Valley) game and a 55-0 (Point Arena) game. Mendocino beat Rincon Valley Christian 60-12 and throttled Anderson Valley 64-28. Both teams have faced criticism that they are not exercising good sportsmanship by running up the score.
“We have had a lot of years in which we have been on the opposite end of those scores,” said Laytonville coach Corey James.
“And we never complained. Teams played us hard every play, to the end of the whistle. We never griped. That’s how you should play. We play the same way.”
Laytonville had one win via forfeit this year. Mendocino had two.
When a team scores 60, 70 or 80 points, it will attract attention and not everyone will be clapping.
And let’s not forget history. Laytonville hasn’t won a football championship since 1994 and was 2-6 last season.
Mendocino was 5-3 in 2011 and, before beating Laytonville on Friday night, hadn’t won a title since at least the early 1970s. Absence of winning makes players thirsty for success.
The appearance of fun provides an added benefit to a small school like Laytonville. Small schools rarely have a player surplus. With Laytonville having a 130-student population, winning can attract more players.
Adolescents gravitate to excitement, euphoria and accomplishment.
“We want to bring football back to Laytonville,” said James, speaking of the sport’s popularity on campus.
“We want to bring back football to Mendocino,” Miller said. “It once was very popular there.”
The aspirations of both coaches are matched by their aspirations for what eight-man football can become. At this point, no CIF playoff exists for the eight-man game, giving Friday’s contest added importance.
Eight-man playoffs could happen within a couple of years, the coaches have been hearing. With the NCL III, and strong leagues in both Monterey and the Shasta-Redding areas, Miller and James feel there is a strong base to develop a CIF eight-man champion.
So, Friday night was the last game for Mendocino and Laytonville. The visiting team won, 46-28.
No one scored 80 points; heck, no one scored even 50. No one tried an extra point. No one accused the other of running up the score. No one walked away thinking it would have been more fun with 11 players on a side. And, most importantly, no dogs were harmed in the making of this football game.
You can reach Staff Columnist Bob Padecky at 521-5223 or firstname.lastname@example.org.