TAUNTON — It couldn’t be happening again. Not for the second week in a row, could it?
Mike Carden barely had time to think as he trotted out onto the field to attempt a game-winning 48-yard field goal with one second left and Franklin High’s football team trailing host Taunton, 28-27, Friday night.
Just a week earlier, against Attleboro, he had drilled a 41-yarder in the game’s final seconds to win, 44-41. Now he lined up another pressure kick, hoping for the same result.
Wearing special cleats made of kangaroo leather that he found online, Carden drove his left foot into the ball and watched it sail end-over-end to its target.
Forty-eight yards is no chip shot, even for a professional, but the trajectory of Carden’s kick seemed good, and roused the Franklin sideline for a moment until it fell 4 yards short of the crossbar, bouncing hard in the end zone.
A week earlier, Carden had to find his way out from the middle of a pile of teammates after converting the game-winner. Against Taunton he walked off the field slowly and fell into line to shake hands with the victorious team.
It was a lot to ask of his senior kicker, to bail out the Panthers with such a long kick, coach Brad Sidwell admitted after the game. Still, Carden, who led Eastern Massachusetts in field goals last season, thought he could make it.
“I try to think, ‘Were my steps right?’ ” he said. “ ‘Did I rush my setup at all?’ I’m wondering, ‘Did I aim it correctly?’ I definitely re-lived those a little bit on the ride home.”
Such are the highs and lows of a kicker’s life. Opportunities can be few and far between, making each one precious and filled with pressure. And no area kicker has dealt with more stomach-turning moments this season than Carden.
“I just take some deep breaths to get the heart rate down,” said Carden, a former soccer player who decided to play football for the first time last season.
“I usually try to block out everything going on outside: the crowd, the players. I try to block that out and just focus on the field and the kick.”
Focus on the art of kicking has seen a bit of an uptick in the last decade or more, according to local coaches. Camps have sprouted up for players to hone their skills in the offseason, and YouTube has made it easier for them to find styles to emulate and watch over and over.
Locally, a few have gone on to kick at the college level.
Algonquin Regional High grad Dave Teggart , who went on to a stellar career at the University of Connecticut, spent some time in the Chicago Bears training camp this summer. Brian Harvey (Wayland High) is a senior kicker for the University of Maine.
Stephen Hauschka , who played soccer at Needham High, is the placekicker for the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks after picking up football at Middlebury College and North Carolina State.
“When I was a player, you said, ‘Alright. Line up. Who can kick it the farthest? Alright, you’re it,’ ” said Wayland coach Scott Parseghian .
“I’m always amazed when I go to camps now over the summer and there is the whole kicking part to it now that I never remember as a player.”
But it is a tricker process to teach someone how to handle their emotions before a big kick. Some coaches need to see that their kicker can embrace those moments before trusting him to try one.
Acton-Boxborough Regional coach Bill Maver admits he is stubborn on fourth downs; he does not often call for his field goal unit.
But Jack Perry has been his varsity placekicker for four years, so when Perry was sent out to make a 24-yarder to beat Wayland on the game’s final play a few weeks ago, Maver was confident.
“There was no doubt in my mind,” Maver said.
Wayland junior Eric McLean , who leads Eastern Mass. with five field goals this season, has become equally trustworthy for Parseghian by preparing himself with drills to make his game situations easier. He worked with Harvey this summer, and took aim at smaller targets, kicking at light posts at the high school field, or through the uprights from a severe angle to give himself a slimmer window.
There are other, louder drills that work, too.
“In practice, kids come around me and make a lot of noise, kind of yell in my ear,” McLean said. “They’re saying stuff to me, trying to get me distracted. It really helps me to learn to cut out that noise and really focus on what I have to do.”
When Carden lines up his kicks, he tries not to think too much.It is unusual for him to shut down his analytical mind — he is a talented trumpet player who is taking four Advanced Placement courses, and hoping to play football while majoring in something related to mathematical science in college — but it works.
Then there is always the tried-and-true method to avoid butterflies: Build up a comfortable lead and avoid those close late-game situations altogether.
“It’s always nice,” Carden said, “maybe once in a while to not rely on a kick to win the game.”
A change in playoffs
By a 161-131 vote, a new state football playoff system was approved Friday by the MIAA’s member schools, and will be introduced next fall. It will result in the crowning of six state champions, instead of the current 19 Super Bowl winners.
More teams will earn playoff spots, but the postseason will start before the traditional Thanksgiving Day games.
A few area coaches weighed in on the change:
■ Natick coach Mark Mortarelli: “I like it. I think we needed a change; there’s not much of a doubt about that. I just think that any time more kids get to experience the playoffs, it’s better for the game. The way it is now, it’s a shame when a team goes 10-1 and doesn’t make it.”
■ Lincoln-Sudbury Regional coach Tom Lopez: “I’m in favor of giving it a couple years to see if it works out. I know there’s some issues. If it works, great. If it doesn’t, we can tweak it. There’s no harm in trying it.”
■ Nashoba Regional coach Ken Tucker: “I have mixed feelings,’’ he said, citing questions about the divisional alignments. I think that a playoff is a great idea. I know a lot of people worked very hard on it. But ultimately I think that any state system should be equally fair for everyone across the state. I don’t think this one is.”
■ Millis/Hopedale coach Dale Olmstead: “It’s like a boxing match. You’re fighting your weight class now,” he said, referring to the new ranking system that no longer requires teams to win their league to make the playoffs. “I think it evens the playing field.”
Hitting road, again
Lexington’s Saturday game was originally scheduled as a home game but will be played in Winchester at 2:30 p.m. Lexington will have a chance to play its first home game of the season against Woburn on Nov. 9 under rented lights.
The Minutemen have not played at home this fall due to delays in construction of a new drainage system for the field.
Phil Perry can be reached at email@example.com.