In only its second year of existence, the Santa Clarita fifth and sixth grade Under The Lights flag football team is heading to the Under Armour Under The Lights Flag Football National Championships in as many years.
Last year, the Alabama team took the trip to Tampa, Florida for the championship tournament, but came up short.
However, the team consisted of all fifth-graders at the time, and now with a year of experience under their belt, the Alabama team is ready for their second trip to the national tourney, this time at UCLA on Saturday and Sunday.
“Last year we had a young team but we learned quickly in that tournament,” said head coach Craig Hamilton. “We were in every game, we were a young team and there’s a big size difference, you’re playing against teams who are all sixth-graders, going to be seventh-graders that year. We learned a lot, we were determined to come back this year, bring the team back together and give it another run.”
Alabama finished the regular season 8-0 and outscored its opponents 419-133. The offense averaged an astounding 52.4 points per game and the defense allowed just 14.1 points per game.
In a league that is pass-heavy and played on smaller fields, it’s common to put up high-scoring numbers, but holding teams to such low scoring outputs is rare.
“We started thinking about our playbook and defensively how we wanted to switch it up. We give a look of a 4-2 but we drop into a 2-1-3 and the one in the middle is kind of a robber who scouts,” Hamilton said. “We took the philosophy that you can beat us short, we’ll give you a little dump pass in the flat, but we’re going to be great at pulling flags and we’re not going to give up the deep ball and touchdown. When we did that it made all the difference.”
Saturday will begin with pool play, where the Alabama team will play three games against the other teams in its pool. After the games, each team will be seeded according to the day’s results.
Sunday will consist of a single-elimination bracket, with four victories needed to win the national tournament.
“There’s a lot of good teams and families in the whole organization overall. It’s competitive, it’s fun,” Hamilton said. “Our whole thing is focusing on the small things, running a route the right away, lining up in the right spot, if we do all that small stuff, that’s what translates to wins.”
After the Alabama team completed their undefeated season in June, the team celebrated like major league baseball teams by spraying each other with champagne, except it was sparkling apple cider for this team, of course.
While they are hoping to do the same on Sunday, whatever happens, Hamilton is proud of what his team accomplished this season.
“We’re proud no matter what happens, it was an awesome season,” Hamilton said. “It’s hard to run the table, to go undefeated in the regular season and then to win that championship it’s a very hard thing to do, but we’re ready to go.”