With 14:57 left in the second quarter on Saturday, Khari Blasingame punched in a touchdown run that gave Vanderbilt a lead of 11-10, extra point pending. Derek Mason sent out Tommy Openshaw to kick the extra point.
This was absolutely the correct move.
Why don’t you go for two in this situation? After all, a two-point conversion would give you a three-point lead, thus meaning that a field goal would merely tie the game. Whereas there’s no difference between being up one and up two... right?
Well... not really. All of this is true if you get a touchdown to go up one point with two and a half minutes left in the game. In that situation, you’re not likely to have another scoring opportunity in the game, so it makes sense to insulate yourself from losing the game on a field goal.
But this is a frequently misunderstood point, because the math is different at earlier points in the game. In the second quarter, you’re likely to have plenty more scoring opportunities. If you just kick the extra point, scoring another touchdown and converting the extra point gives you a nine-point lead. Nine points is a two-possession game. If you go for two and don’t convert, though, another touchdown and the extra point gives you an eight-point lead... meaning, you can be tied simply by the other team scoring a touchdown and going for two.
Likewise, if you’re down 16 and you score a touchdown to cut the margin to 10, whether to kick the extra point or go for two comes down to how much time is left in the game. If you’re unlikely to get more than one additional scoring opportunity, you go for two. But if there’s enough time left that you could potentially have multiple scoring opportunities, just kick the extra point because you may not need to go for two.
Now, obviously, there are additional considerations in all of this. If the defense jumps offsides on the extra point try, you might consider going for two just because your odds of converting go up considerably if the try is from the one-and-a-half yard line. Likewise, high school teams frequently don’t have a reliable place-kicker, so going for two makes more sense simply because the extra point isn’t automatic.
But if it’s early in the game, you don’t need to go for two because you don’t know how the rest of the game will play out. As it turned out, Vanderbilt did score again a few minutes later, and the extra point put them up by 9. The decision to kick the extra point on Blasingame’s first touchdown of the day meant that Vanderbilt maintained a two-possession advantage for much of the game. And that wouldn’t have been the case if they had gone for two and failed.