What Happens at the End of the Quarter in Football?

Tostitos Fiesta Bowl - Stanford v Oklahoma State

Football games are divided into four even quarters. But although these quarters may be even, what happens at the end of each quarter is not the same. Specific rules govern what happens at the end of each quarter. These rules affect team possessions, position, timing and breaks.

Switching Ends

Football teams switch ends of the field at the end of each quarter. This makes the game fairer, by evening the conditions. For example, if one end of the field is muddy, both teams have to deal with it for half of the game. It can also reduce the likelihood of a team facing unfair weather disadvantages throughout the game, like throwing into an oncoming wind.


Each 15-minute quarter is followed by a break. Between the first and second quarter, there is a short, two-minute break to allow the teams to change sides. Between the second and third quarter, there is a halftime break. This break lasts 12 minutes, giving the teams enough time to discuss strategy and gain some rest. Between the third and fourth quarters, there is another two-minute break, giving the players a chance to switch sides once again.


At the end of the first quarter, the team with possession of the ball retains the possession going into the second quarter. The team retains the same field position, so the ball is placed on the same spot but on the other end of the field. The down indicator box and chains, used to measure the distance to a first down, are also placed at the same spot on the opposite side of the field. The same thing happens at the end of the third quarter, going into the fourth quarter. After the second quarter however, possession and field possession are not retained; the ball is kicked off in the third quarter by the team that received the ball on the opening kickoff.

Two-Minute Warning

With two minutes left in the second and fourth quarters, the officials stop the game clock and announce a two-minute warning -- indicating that there are just two minutes left to play in the quarter. This rule dates back to the days when the referee kept the official time on his watch. There is no warning at the end of the first and third quarters, however.