Friday Night Rewind: Defense winning championships?
Published 12:00 am Wednesday, October 12, 2005
As adages go, “Offense sells tickets, but defense wins championships,” is so old it makes even most old adages look like they should be riding a paper route for pocket money.
But adages also don’t reach that kind of age unless there’s a heck of a lot of truth behind them, and the Black Belt’s three state championship contenders sure aren’t doing anything to disprove it so far this season. Demopolis’s, Sweet Water’s, and Southern Academy’s three title-caliber defenses have combined to allow a measly 68 points in 2005 between the three of them in 21 games.
Discard the 20 points Thomasville scored on Sweet Water in the Bulldogs’ season-opener (the only points Sweet Water’s first-team defense have allowed all season, incidentally) and that number drops to 48 points in 20 games–an infinitesimal average of 2.4 points a game. It’s not too tough to win when a field goal gives you all the points you’ll need for a victory.
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All three defenses flexed their usual muscle last Friday. Southern never allowed West Alabama Prep to cross the 40. Sweet Water recorded two safeties and held Carrollton to negative total yardage for the game, including an amazing minus-14 yards on 26 Indian carries. That’s right: If a Carrollton run went for no gain, it would have improved their yards-per-carry average for the game.
But given the competition, perhaps the most impressive performance was turned in by the Demopolis defense, which put together yet another one of its patented goal-line stands to shut out a talented Greensboro offense. True, the Raider O has sputtered at times during the 2005 season. But the way QB Ivory White and company can throw it around, a shutout of Greensboro is still a heck of an accomplishment–after all, neither Thomasville nor Demopolis’s Friday opponent, Jemison, could pull it off (Jemison, in fact, gave up 28 at home to the Raiders).
So what do these defenses have in common? Four things jump out:
1. Great coaching. It’s said that defenses take on the personalities of their coaches, so it’s no surprise that the fiery, aggressive Bulldog and Tiger defenses start with the fiery, aggressive coaching styles of Andro Williams and Freddy Lawrence. Pick out one reason why Southern beat Shelby in their Week 4 title-game rematch, and you can point to the emphasis Shaun Bonds and James Davis put on being more physical than their opponents up front.
2. Talent. The coaches above would all very likely agree that it becomes a lot easier to coach when you’ve got guys like Ezell Braxton and Jacob Smelley (for DHS) or Deon Williams and Travion Lockett (for Sweet Water) or Wes Henry and Andy Wheeler (at Southern).
3. They’ll all be tested, and soon. Sweet Water, of course, will face the state’s most explosive 1A offense this Friday when they face off with American Christian. Demopolis may need more than one goal-line stand this week to keep its shutout streak (currently at four games and 16 quarters) going against a 6-1 Jemison team on a six-game winning streak of its own. And after facing Cornerstone this week, Oct. 21 1A Southern goes on the road to face Patrician, currently the top-ranked AISA 2A team in the state. Expect the intensity dial ratcheted up to 11 for these games.
4. Each of these teams will need their defense to keep playing at their current level–or higher–to win a state title. All three teams’ offenses are high-powered and able to score at a moment’s notice. But there’s not an offense that’s yet been invented that’s going to just toss up 40 points every single week of the year (remember, even the 2004 Demopolis machine got slowed in the fog and scored 14 in the second week of the playoffs).
The good news is that none of the three are showing any signs of slipping so far. Defense wins championships? These three certainly look capable.
Playoff picture focusing?
Only two weeks of regional play remain for AHSAA teams and the playoff picture, while still far from cut-and-dry, is at least much clearer than it was at the season’s halfway point. Excepting 3A Region 3 (where Francis Marion and Sumter County are eliminated) and 2A Region 4 (ditto R.C. Hatch) here’s a look at the rest of the AHSAA regions involving area teams:
4A Region 4: Demopolis and Jemison have clinched. Jemison’s 48-35 win over Bibb Co., the DHS win over Greensboro, Greene County’s 44-20 victory over Livingston, and Southside’s 46-13 drubbing of Dallas County mean four teams are tied at 2-3. Greensboro is in the best shape of the four, with head-to-head tiebreaks over two of the three (Southside and Bibb) and the easiest on-paper schedule (vs. bottom two Dallas and Livingston). The problem for the Raiders is that both games are on the road, where they have much shakier than at home. The same goes for Greene County, who must travel to Bibb and Demopolis. Unless GCHS pulls an upset in one of the two, that Bibb and Southside must play each other Week 9 means that Greensboro will likely get in even with a loss in one of their two games.
1A Region 4: Sweet Water and ACA have clinched and all John Essex needs is a victory this week over winless Akron. Unless Sunshine pulls off a sizable upset over A.L. Johnson at home Thursday, the huge Johnson-Linden match-up in Thomaston Oct. 21 will be winner-take-all for the last playoff spot.
1A Region 1: Marengo’s 21-7 win over Fruitdale coupled with a loss by J.U. Blacksher means that even if the Panthers fall to Millry this week, a Week 9 win over 1-6 McIntosh would nail down a spot.
A 35-12 loss wasn’t likely what Linden had in mind against American Christian, but the Patriots deserve kudos anyways for causing the state’s second-ranked team some headaches. 35 points is ACA’s season-low to this point and both Linden touchdowns came against the visitor’s first-team defense…Despite Marengo Academy’s 17-7 loss to Tuscaloosa, Longhorn fans have to be happy about getting two more years out of Andy Flowers. The sophomore running back scored the Longhorn’s only touchdown of the game, giving him four in two games…Congratulations to Francis Marion, who broke a five-game losing skid on the road at Central-Hayneville.