CONCORD – It’s easy for a strong offense to be noticed. There’s a ton of ways to make a flashy and memorable play, whether it’s a 90-yard touchdown run or a 48-yard touchdown pass.
Both happened in the Northwest Cabarrus football team’s 47-15 home win over Mount Pleasant on Friday night.
But it’s hard to be noticed on defense if there isn’t an interception or fumble. Did people watching the Trojans blowout victory realize the defense “allowed” minus-2 passing yards all game Friday? Forced five three-and-outs? Held the Tigers to 64 total yards in the first half?
None of that is easy to remember without purposely tracking it. Each three-and-out slowly breaks the offense’s spirit, even more so when that flashy Northwest Cabarrus offense keeps scoring after each three-and-out.
“We take pride in swarming to the ball and tackling as a team,” Trojans defensive lineman Andre Hill said. “Everyone is only worried about our jobs and not getting distracted and staying in control as a unit.”
That laser focus really proved to be the difference in the Trojans’ win, especially when they were forced again and again to cover the offense or special teams’ mistakes.
First, the opening kickoff turned into a Tigers surprise onside kick recovery. The Trojans defense immediately shut down the Tigers’ joy with four straight stops for a turnover on downs.
Two drives later, the Trojans offense threw an interception, and the Tigers again had reason to believe they could take a lead, down 6-0 at the time. The tenacious Trojans defense closed the door again. After shutting down the run three straight times, the Tigers threw it on fourth-and-10, and Kamari Manns intercepted it.
Leading 27-0 near the end of the first half, the Northwest defense forced another three-and-out. Unfortunately, on the punt, the Trojans returner muffed it, and Mount Pleasant had the ball on the Trojans’ 44-yard line with a chance to score at the end of the half and change the momentum of the game.
But the Northwest defense held strong. On fourth-and-7 on the 11-yard line with 39 seconds left, defensive lineman Trajon Truesdale broke through the Mount Pleasant offensive line, forcing the running back to go outside. All of a sudden, the Tiger had multiple Trojans waiting for him.
“We just did what we had to do,” Hill said of his defensive linemen crew. “We blew up the tight ends and let the linebackers make the tackle. We sacrificed our stats for them.”
As a whole that first half, Northwest Cabarrus’ defense allowed only three first downs on seven possessions and stopped three of four fourth-down attempts.
“Defensively, that was a grind-it-out type of game,” said Trojans coach Brandon Gentry. “They were running the same plays and that power (run) right at us. It tested our toughness, but our guys answered the bell.”
It’s also noteworthy that the defense suffered through at least five players with cramps, forcing the Trojans to use a ton of depth. Even with multiple backup defenders seeing important game-time action, the Trojan defense continued to stay strong.
“We did a lot of good things with a lot of different guys playing well -- it wasn’t just one individual,” Gentry said. “It’s good to be able to get our backups some work. They come to practice and work hard to get in the game. They know they’re one play away. We’ve only got 30 kids, so if one goes down, they have to step up. To get them game snaps was good.”
In two games this season, the Trojans have only allowed 18 points, but Gentry and Hill acknowledged the defense can still improve.
The only real mistake the defense made all night was the first drive of the second half. It committed three unsportsmanlike penalties and an offside penalty. The violations led to Mount Pleasant’s first scoring drive of the game.
“We have a lot more to improve on, but right now we’re looking pretty good,” Hill said. “But we always have things we can improve on.”
Gentry added, “We’re going to try to keep getting better and grow. We definitely haven’t arrived. I’ve noticed we’re putting up scores and holding people, but we haven’t arrived. We’ve got to keep getting better each and every rep.”