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How does Football Scoring work?

A primer on how points are scored in American Football. Covers terms like touch-downs, field goals, quarters, down and distance.



Football is a game that is widely celebrated and loved by millions of people across the United States. However, the scoring system can be a bit overwhelming for beginners. In this article, we will break down the fundamentals of football scoring and explore the components of a scoreboard to you develop a better understanding of what's happening on the field.

A top-down view of an American Football pitch

Football Scoring Basics

In football, the ultimate goal is to score more points than the opposing team by the end of the game. Achieving this requires a good understanding of the various ways of scoring points and knowing when to utilize each one. Let's go through the different ways to score points in football, from the highly sought-after touchdown to the rare safety, and provide an explanation of each method's point value.

2 men playing american football. One is trying to tackle the other.

Touchdown (TD) - 6 points

A touchdown is the primary method of scoring in football. It occurs when a player carries the ball across the opposing team's goal line or catches a pass in the end zone. A touchdown is worth 6 points.

Extra Point (PAT) - 1 point

Following a touchdown, the scoring team has the opportunity to attempt an extra point, also known as a point after touchdown (PAT). The kicker of the scoring team tries to kick the ball through the uprights of the goalpost from the 2-yard line. If successful, the team is awarded 1 additional point.

Two-point Conversion - 2 points

Instead of attempting a PAT, the scoring team may choose to go for a two-point conversion. This involves running a play from the opponent's 2-yard line with the objective of crossing the goal line or catching a pass in the end zone. If successful, the team is awarded 2 additional points.

Field Goal (FG) - 3 points

A field goal is another way to score in football. The team's kicker attempts to kick the ball through the goalpost's uprights from a specific yard line, typically following an unsuccessful drive towards the end zone. A successful field goal is worth 3 points.

Safety - 2 points

A safety is a rare scoring play that occurs when the defensive team tackles the offensive player with the ball in their own end zone or forces the offensive team to commit a penalty in their end zone. A safety awards the defensive team 2 points.

Understanding the Scoreboard

2 men playing american football. One is trying to tackle the other.

Team Names

A football scoreboard displays the names or abbreviations of the two teams playing. The home team is typically listed on top or to the left, while the visiting team is on the bottom or to the right. More advanced scoreboards will allow the actual names to be shown, otherwise the scoreboard just says "HOME" and "AWAY".


Each team's current score is prominently displayed next to their name or abbreviation. The scores are updated in real-time as points are scored.

Quarter and Time Remaining

Football games consist of four quarters, each lasting 15 minutes in professional and college football. The scoreboard shows which quarter the game is in, as well as the time remaining in that quarter.

Down and Distance

Football is a game of downs, with each team having four attempts (downs) to advance 10 yards. The scoreboard displays the current down (1st, 2nd, 3rd, or 4th) and the distance (number of yards) the offensive team needs to cover to earn a new set of downs. On scoreboards the distance is often labelled as "TO GO".

The "TO GO" number tells you how many more yards are required for the offensive team to reach that 10-yard goal and earn a first down, which then resets the four-down count.

For example, if it's the offensive team's 1st down and the "To go" shows 8, it means they need to advance the ball 8 more yards to achieve a first down. If the team is successful in reaching the required yardage, they will be awarded a new set of four downs, and the "To go" number will reset back to 10 (or fewer yards, if they are closer to the opponent's goal line).

Ball on

"Ball on" is a term used on scoreboards to indicate the yard line where the ball is currently placed on the field. It shows the position of the ball in relation to the two end zones, providing spectators with a better understanding of the field position and the offensive team's progress. The number displayed for "Ball on" represents the yard line, with each end zone beginning at the 1-yard line and the midfield being the 50-yard line. For example, if the "Ball on" indicates 25, it means the ball is on the 25-yard line of the field.

Possession Indicator

The possession indicator on a scoreboard is a visual cue that shows which team currently has possession of the ball. Possession, in football, refers to the team that is on offense and attempting to advance the ball down the field to score points. The possession indicator is typically displayed as a small illuminated symbol or light next to the team's name or abbreviation on the scoreboard.

The possession indicator helps spectators quickly determine which team is in control of the ball at any given moment during the game. This is particularly helpful for those who may have just started watching the game or momentarily lost track of which team has possession.

Timeouts Remaining

Each team is allowed three timeouts per half, and the scoreboard keeps track of the number of timeouts remaining for each team. Some scoreboards will show this, the one above does not.

Using scoreboard software is one of the leading solutions for creating online scoreboards. You can literally be up and running in under 30 seconds, no registration nor payment required.

It is a great option for small leagues and teams that don't have the budget to purchase an expensive dedicated scoreboard. To get started, click the button below:

What's very convenient is that you can control your scoreboard from anywhere, including a mobile phone.

Controlling a scoreboard from a mobile phone using a scoreboard app

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