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East Webster defense not concerned about the spotlight

 

David Miller

 

MABEN -- Defensive players rarely get the shine cast on those who score touchdowns.  

 

And that''s fine by East Webster High School football players.  

 

Giving up just 8.1 points per game this season, the undefeated Wolverines (11-0, 5-0 Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 2A, Region 2) have steamrolled through their schedule and pitched five shutouts this season.  

 

For all the accolades given to the Wolverines'' punishing option offense -- which averages more than 300 rushing yards per game -- their senior-led defense has been overlooked.  

 

"Coach tells us that we may not get all the credit in the newspapers that we deserve, but we still need to go hard and not worry about that," junior defensive lineman Charles Guyton said Thursday. "We have goals we''re trying to reach, and if we''re worrying about getting credit we''re not focused." 

 

While feeling a bit starved for attention, the Wolverines'' defense has remained dominant because it hasn''t overlooked any opponents.  

 

Adjusting quickly to other teams'' schemes and rebounding from conceding early scores has been a calling card of this year''s East Webster defense. And though the Wolverines have rarely trailed, their defense has shown a knack for increasing its intensity when they''ve given up a score or long gain.  

 

East Webster''s 55-27 win over West Oktibbeha is a prime example of that trend, as the Wolverines faced Class 1A''s leading quarterback in Von Smith. The strong-armed Smith threw a pair of first-quarter touchdown passes, helping the Timberwolves tie the game at 14 by the end of the first quarter. Though Smith finished with more than 270 yards passing, the Wolverines'' adjustments flipped the field for their ground game, which finished with 442 yards.  

 

Wolverines head coach Jimmy Carden noted his team''s ability to take away West Oktibbeha''s bubble screens, which forced Smith to hold the ball longer. 

 

"I guess it talks about your coach staff that we don''t get ''em ready all the way through the week and have to finish up on Friday night," Carden joked. "You watch a lot of film, but it doesn''t simulate the speed of the other team. And we can''t simulate it in practice. You have to get adjusted to team speed, and it looks different than it does in the video room." 

 

With nine seniors starting on defense, Carden and his staff haven''t had trouble making in-game adjustments.  

 

The message, said senior defensive back Demetrius O''Briant, is simple. 

 

"We come together to see what the other team is working with, coach talks to us, and the players go out and make up for any mistakes they made," said O''Briant, who has 52 tackles and two interceptions this season.  

 

East Webster looks to continue that formula against Bruce (4-7, 2-3), which visits Cumberland tonight for a first-round playoff tie. Kickoff is 7 p.m. 

 

The Wolverines will face standout running back Zay Armstrong, who has 1,134 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns this season. Armstrong rushed for 92 yards on 15 carries in Bruce''s 52-15 loss at home on Sept. 15.  

 

Armstrong has rushed for more than 100 yards in each of the last four games.  

 

"They run the trap good, and we''ve got to maintain so they won''t get any big plays," Guyton said.  

 

East Webster is looking to return to the North State title game for the second straight year. The Wolverines hope to do what the last year''s East Webster team didn''t: make it to Jackson. 

 

Comparing teams can be unfair because of different talent levels and schedules. Carden admits his ''08 bunch, which had similar statistics and entered the playoffs undefeated, was more athletic. 

 

There''s a trait, however, he feels can overcome any lack of athleticism needed to reach the state title game: unity.  

 

"The team chemistry is better with this team," Carden said. "This bunch plays well together and they''re no selfishness at all." 

 

O''Briant, who leads the team with 1,093 rushing yards, was a sophomore on East Webster''s ''08 squad. He agrees with Carden''s assessment on the differences between the 2008 team and this year''s version.  

 

"There''s a lot of confidence in this team because we play for each other," he said. "Two years ago, I feel like some guys were playing for themselves. This year, we''re a family." 

 

Guyton can attest to the the team''s bond, as he''s experienced a resurgent year after leaving the team mid-way through the ''09 campaign.  

 

He knew he didn''t have to be a star, he just had to fit in and work hard like everyone else. Slowly, he''s become one of the team''s shining defensive stars. He has 60 tackles and two sacks this season.  

 

Carden said the competition on defensive line is fierce, which has helped Guyton. The rest has been Guyton''s mindset to become a good player.  

 

"Coach told me he saw that I could become a great player," Guyton explained, "and if I worked hard in the weight room I would. That really got to me, and I really thought I could become a great player. The people beside me believe in me, and I believe in them. That''s helped me the most since I got out here."

 

 

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