Their turn(over): Raider ‘D’ rarely relents

Photo by Brittney Lohmiller/The Herald
Logan Seger (9) and Cole Calvert are the top tacklers for a Southridge defense that’s limited four of five postseason opponents to seven points. The No. 5 Raiders have forced 36 turnovers heading into Saturday’s Class 2A state finals clash with No. 6 Woodlan. Kickoff is set for noon. 

BY JONATHAN SAXON
jsaxon@dcherald.com

HUNTINGBURG — When the Southridge defense lines up before the snap, there is only one thought going through each player’s mind: What can I do to wreak havoc for the other team when the ball is snapped?

“All the (team) captains play defense, and we all get in the mindset of be aggressive, be crazy. Just go out there and give them hell,” said senior defensive end Mitchell Carter.

But that does not mean that players tasked with stopping some the state’s best offenses play mindlessly. On the contrary, there is a lot of pre-snap action that must be done in order to ensure that everyone is positioned and prepared to make a positive impact for a Raider team heading into Saturday’s Class 2A state title game against Woodlan; kickoff is set for noon at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.

“The most important thing on defense is getting in the right position before the ball is snapped,” said Raider defensive coordinator Steve Winkler, a post he has held at Southridge since 1981. “Knowing your keys is very important. Then you have to react as you’re coached in your position groups to do the physical and fundamental things correctly.”

There is also a lot of film study on the opponent that makes the task “a hundred times easier,” according to sophomore linebacker Cole Calvert, the team’s top tackler.

“(By) knowing their formations and what plays they have out of that formation, I can pick out what might happen,” he said. “If I know a guard is pulling, I can tell what play is going on. So I just line up and make sure I’m doing my job.”

And once the play starts, it is critical that everyone talks about what they’re seeing unfold so that the defense does not get caught by any tricks or surprises from the opponent’s offense. The auditory cues let the players know how they must move according to a myriad of situations: whether it’s shouting out patterns of motion, pointing out where the ball carrier is moving, or identifying the pass before it’s thrown.

“Communication was a key we had to get down first before we started to mesh,” said senior cornerback Grant Maxey. “We have all these intricate signs; it’s a lot of moving parts with our defense. You have to lay the foundation before you can take off like we have done. Knowing where everybody was and knowing your job was really important before we could advance into the more complicated layers of our defense.”

How has all of the preparation, communication and collective will to stonewall other football teams on a week-in, week-out basis worked out? It has produced a defense that allows 14 ppg and has forced 36 turnovers (23 interceptions, 13 fumble recoveries) over the course of 14 games. And with one more stout performance, they will be able to prove the old pigskin proverb: Defense wins championships.

“That’s always the ultimate goal, to play for state title,” said Carter. “What do you play for? Championships, rings. That’s what you do it for. It feels great.”

Winkler said that in the beginning of any season there are always question marks about how a team and its components will come together, because in any given year he has to bring up new players to replace the guys who graduate. But this season he was pleased early on with what he saw from his defense, even after they suffered an early loss to county rival Jasper.

“Things didn’t out quite so well for us, but we knew when you make mistakes, you learn and you move on by trying to correct them,” said Winkler. “And our kids have responded well every time something like that happens.”

The Raiders suffered one other blemish during the season, a 55-14 loss to Class 3A No. 1 Gibson Southern, but the defense never pouted. They instead have tried to use the losses as motivation and further learning opportunities.

“Anytime you get bested out there on the field, you have to keep your head high and make sure that doesn’t get to you,” said Maxey. “You got to keep that balance, and you got to get angry. Because you’re fighting to play another week and it’s exciting. It just makes the intensity level higher, as the ballgame comes down to who’s going to score next. I think defensively we kept a good mind about it and stayed strong.”

It was all thanks to that mental resiliency that Southridge was able to bounce back in last week’s 24-7 victory against Indianapolis Scecina, after the Crusaders scored the first touchdown of the game three plays after a weather delay.

“When things go wrong and someone scores, you’ll see our guys come to the side of the field and say, ‘Stay calm everyone, simmer down,’ said Carter. “We try to keep a cool, level head because we know they’ll make plays, but so will we. We know that we have every chance in the world to bounce back, and the last thing you want to do is lose your cool. That’s when more mistakes happen.”

All of the preparation, lessons, and experiences will come down to this last football game of the season. There is just one final opponent for the Raider defense to smother and frustrate if they hope to achieve what three other Southridge teams had failed to do before them.

“When I come across the line, the thought you always want to have is to look the guy in the eye and you think to yourself, ‘There’s nothing you can do to stop me,’” said Carter. “Not in a cocky fashion, but that’s the mindset you have to have. You have to be aggressive and confident in yourself.”

Winkler expects his guys to bring their best to the field Saturday and encourages them not to let the event become bigger than the task. They have a mission.

“Getting to the (state championship) game brings a lot of hype,” he said. “It’s very important that we’re focusing on our jobs. Learn your job, do your job, and let the chips fall where they may. This is not a vacation. We’re going up there to win this thing.”




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