As soon as Eagles quarterback Nick Foles took those fateful steps toward the line of scrimmage and came to a stop behind right tackle Lane Johnson at the end of the first half Sunday in Super Bowl LII, Cardinal O’Hara football coach B.J. Hogan knew exactly what was coming.
“We ran the same play against Neumann-Goretti a few months earlier,” Hogan said.
O’Hara lost that game, 22-21, but the play the Lions called “Clemson, Clemson,” worked and kept the O’Hara in the game.
The Eagles version, dubbed the “Philly Special,” led to the team’s first Super Bowl title and a celebration like no other Thursday.
As for Hogan, the play gave him and his team a direct connection to the Super Bowl victory. As soon as Foles pulled in Trey Burton’s pass to give the Eagles a 22-12 lead at halftime, Hogan’s phone blew up. Among the first to text him were offensive coordinator John Florio and assistant coach Isaac Jones, followed by many of the players.
“It was crazy,” Hogan said. “Everybody was saying that we ran it first.”
Actually, the trick play has been around for years. North Allegheny ran a version of the play for a two-point conversion in its 21-14 victory over Ridley in the 1990 PIAA Class 4A championship game.
Eagles coach Doug Pederson said he got it from the Chicago Bears. Hogan stole it from Clemson when he was an assistant coach at Tennessee-Chattanooga, hence its name.
“It’s all copycat stuff,” Hogan said. “I know St. Joseph’s Prep ran it in 2015. Archbishop Wood ran it, too. You see it posted on social media all over the place. The play has been out there for so long, but to have the guts to call it in that situation was amazing.”
Actually, it was Foles who made the suggestion to Pederson to run the play on fourth-and-goal from the one-yard line and Pederson quickly agreed.
“You’re not going to run it if you don’t have players who can execute it,” Hogan said. “There’s a big trust factor.”
Hogan was confident his players could pull it off and did, even though Neumann-Goretti’s left defensive end almost blew the play up. Receiver Justin Santilla took the direct snap and handed the ball off to running back Taseer Jones. With the end charging at him, Jones lofted a perfect pass to quarterback Luke Sprague.
“It all comes down to execution,” Hogan said.
First, the quarterback has to sell it. If he releases too soon, the defense can adjust.
“I tell our guys to count one-thousand-one, one-thousand-two as slow as they possibly can and then go,” Hogan said.
Secondly, the wide receiver on the outside, in this case Alshon Jeffery, has to clear out the defensive back on that side of the field, which he did.
The other key is having someone who can deliver the football. Burton was a quarterback in high school and in his first year at Florida. For O’Hara, Jones threw two TD passes that day against the Saints.
“The quarterback is unaccounted for in coverage,” Hogan said. “That’s why it works. You saw that earlier in the play with (Tom) Brady.”
Danny Amendola’s pass, though, was just out of the reach of Brady, but that didn’t stop the Eagles from giving it a try a little while later.
“I think you’ll probably see some plays off of that at the college and high school level because of all the wildcat stuff that is run today,” Hogan said. “People don’t think twice about throwing a pass to the quarterback.”
The Eagles didn’t and had a parade for the ages Thursday because of it.
“I just wish I was smart enough to send it down to them before the Super Bowl,” Hogan said.