Sevier County flexes defensive muscle
Among all the offseason changes at Sevier County — including the departure of long-time coach Steve Brewer and arrival of Division I quarterback recruit Deuce Wallace — the revamped defense may be the most overlooked.
The Smoky Bears installed a three-man scheme led by co-defensive coordinators Bryan Atchley and P.J. Burden while bringing in assistant Mark Chait, a veteran of three-man fronts, to help with the transition.
After a 35-0 shutout of Bearden on Friday, it looks like the unit has taken big strides.
“I think we knew that we were capable (of a shutout),” said defensive end Seth Arwood. “We just had to come out and do it, and we sure did tonight. Definitely the 3-4, it puts defensive linemen in position to make plays. Defensive linemen got a lot of tackles tonight I think. It just gives us a chance to be more physical.”
That physicality has been a major focus for Sevier County (1-0) this offseason. It showed up on the very first play on Friday when J.D. Griffin burst into the backfield to make a tackle for a 5-yard loss. When the game was over, the Bears had their first shutout since Oct. 18 of last year. Before Friday, Sevier County had just two shutouts the previous three years and had finished 2013 giving up more than 28 points per game.
“We’re a lot more physical up front than we were last year,” said Bears head coach Tony Linginfelter. “Our up-front play and our linebacker play is just much better. And we keep trying to get better. We got roughed up a little bit in early scrimmages but we’ve improved and we’re still working, trying to improve more.”
Friday’s game looked like it could become a shootout early in the night. After Wallace completed his first of four touchdown passes, the Bulldogs (0-1) drove down the field by converting twice on third down and once on fourth. Bearden made it to the Sevier County 8-yard line when Hunter Miniard got the first of two Bear interceptions in the end zone.
Sevier County held the ball the rest of the opening quarter, going up 14-0 when Devante Matthews caught a 30-yard touchdown pass early in the second.
“After a big, long drive like that it stops their momentum,” Miniard said. “It gives it to us. Just after that interception it seemed like everything started to come together.”
Bearden’s final three drives of the half didn’t make it very far, gaining a total of 37 yards. The Bulldogs went three-and-out three times in the second half, never moving past midfield.
“We just kept going (after the first drive),” Arwood said. “We just had to get the defense motivated.
We were kind of down. After they got a couple first downs, the defense starts hanging their heads. But we know how to just pick it back up.” Linginfelter said scrimmages against McCallie and West High School this summer exposed the defense’s deficiencies and gave the Bears an idea of what they needed to work on.
Part of that is being more physical up front and Sevier County got plenty of pressure on quarterback Cameron Jones.
The Bears may finally have a defense that can keep pace with the team’s dazzling offense.
“Everyone thinks that our defense is bad and stuff like that,” Matthews said. “But we came out and we played hard and we’re a physical team now.”