By CHARLIE CHITWOOD
The Jefferson Bulldogs’ high-octane offense isn’t the only thing raising eyebrows around East Texas.
Just take a gander at the box score from last week’s game with Hooks. The out-matched Hornets tried and tried again to pound the football on the ground and managed less than three yards per carry on 53 attempts. The Hooks aerial assault never got out of the hangar – four pass completions in 14 attempts, all for a cumulative net loss of 24 yards. Ouch.
Part and parcel to the Hornets’ inability to move the ball were two Bulldog linebackers, Kannon Glover and Brennan Varnell. The destructive duo amassed astounding numbers. While Varnell was posting 21 total tackles with nine of them solo shots, Glover played the roll of berserker and was in on 32 tackles, 14 of them all by himself. A player having 20-plus tackles in a game is rare enough to be appreciated, but THIRTY-PLUS tackles? You’d think Hooks would have learned to run another direction, even if it meant running backwards.
The Bulldog defense continues to hum along under the direction of Jefferson alum Steven Young and comes to each game hungry. Opponents just can’t get their ground games untracked (a hair over three yards per carry) and has picked off eight passes. Safety Trace Smith has been especially rough on opponents in the secondary, grabbing three interceptions and breaking up eight more passes – both best numbers on a team full of good ones.
Special teams play? For starters, they ARE special. Landon Fuquay has made more than 85% of his point-after kicks and punter Camden Simpson gets the job done, even if he doesn’t get that many opportunities.
Opposing teams simply don’t get to kick off to Jefferson many times for the kick-return game to show out, but area punters have to be nervous the moment they say “hike.” The Dawgs have blocked four punts this season, matching the number of punt returns for touchdowns scored by Dee Black (1) and T.Q. Jackson (3).
Texas A&M-Commerce head coach Colby Carthel preaches the value of special teams and commonly speaks of the “hidden yards” to be found in that aspect of the game. The Lions lead the nation in NCAA-Division II, allowing less than 11 yards per return on the few kicks that can be returned. Other times, Lion kicker Kristov Martinez gets to choose his own on-side kick preference and is far more successful at gaining another Lion possession than not.
“It’s all about dictating the action when you have the football,” Carthel has said. “As long as you control the direction of the football, you can attack. And we like to attack.”
Bulldog opponents have scored only 105 points through the first nine games. That’s less than a dozen points per game allowed and there are few contenders around the state that can boast such numbers. In all of Class 3A-Division I, there are only six other teams that have been stingier. Nobody in Region I (West Texas) has held opponents to fewer points. The Dawgs are the leaders in Region II while Franklin (56 points allowed) and Woodville (96 points allowed) have been more miserly in Region III. In Region IV, four teams have allowed fewer points than Jefferson but rarely do South Texas teams escape the state semi-finals.
Jefferson is going to have its work cut out for it in the post-season soon enough, but while everyone loves a potent offense, it’s defense that wins championships. The Bulldogs HAVE that kind of defense this year and a playoff run deeper than the past two years is there to be had. Experience counts, and most of these Bulldog players have been logging meaningful minutes on the field since they were freshmen and sophomores. It brings a whole new meaning to the phrase “respect your elders.”
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