East Surry’s ferocious defense has gotten the best of teams with finesse and power offenses in its first two playoff games.
West Montgomery will test the Cardinals with its own version of “RGIII” at quarterback on Friday night in the third round of the Class 1AA West playoffs.
The Warriors (12-1) light up the scoreboard for 48 points a game. East (11-2) gives up 11 points on average.
In order for the Cardinals to slow down the Warriors, they’ll need the defense to shine once again.
“(Quarterback Caleb Drake) sometimes looks like Robert Griffin III,” Coach David Diamont of East Surry said. “He’ll trap out of it, zone read, counter trey, jet sweep. They are all over the place. Their receivers are fast. So you better be ready.”
Comparing Drake to players the Cards have seen this year — Diamont mentioned South Stokes quarterback JJ Davis and Walkertown quarterback Keenan Boston.
So far in the 2013 playoffs, East has risen to the occasion. The Cardinals kept the Wolfpack out of the end zone until late in the fourth quarter in the first round in a 37-10 victory and turned in another fine performance last week, limiting the Mount Airy Bears to one touchdown in a 20-10 win.
“Coaches Joe Reid Denny (secondary), Jon Carpenter (linebackers) and Randy Marion (defensive coordinator), they have done a marvelous job,” Diamont said. “I turn it over to those guys to run the show. The key thing is to study your opponents. Coach Marion does a fascinating job of studying your opponent. If an opponent doesn’t score, you have good chance to win. He’s done a real good job of game-planning.”
West Montgomery poses a different challenge for the defense. Drake has combined for more than 3,000 yards passing and rushing, and tailback Suave Pegues has rushed for more than 1,600 yards this season. East defeated West Montgomery 23-20 in overtime last year, but defensive coordinator Randy Marion said the 2012 Warriors team was very young.
“They made a lot of mistakes handling the ball with the option, but they’ve really cleaned that up a lot,” Marion said. “They are not turning the ball over near as much. This year the quarterback is pitching it a lot more. It will take a great team effort to come away with a win.”
East shows a lot of multiple looks on defense and builds the defensive gameplan around its opponents’ offense.
The Cardinals have three starters on defense who started as sophomores — Chase Brewster (secondary), Christian Shinault (defensive line) and Casey Marion (linebacker).
“They have all had great years. They have been the leaders in those spots,” Marion said.
At linebacker, JT Lichtenberger has bounced back from a knee injury suffered against West Stokes last season to have “a phenomenal year,” said Marion. Corben Kiser also recovered from a knee injury against Mount Airy and has played well. Marion also noted the team’s “playmaker on defense out in space” Keanu Love.
In the past two playoff games, East’s secondary has been exceptional. Brewster had a big defensive play in the end zone against Mount Airy last week. Austin Shabdue leads the team in interceptions with three and Gage Edwards has been solid at safety.
“I felt like the last game of the regular season against Mount Airy I was too conservative,” Marion said. “We played a zone defense with an extra man over the top. I told the guys we were going back to man coverage, which allowed us to be more aggressive up front.”
The results have been impressive — with both the Wolfpack and Bears’ passing games held in check.
Marion said he has worked with some of the Cardinals since Little League, and that his relationship with the players is built around love and trust.
“I make sure every week I tell them how much I love and trust them,” he said. “They trust in what we are doing. I am very fortunate. I have a great group of kids at East Surry that we work with. As the coach I have the easy job.”
As well as the defense has played this year, Marion gave a ton of credit to how well the offense has performed this season. East scored 37 points in the season opener against Walkertown and then built a 20-3 lead on Mount Airy last week behind the big rushing performance of Lucas Koons. It’s tough enough for a team to come back from three scores down, much less on a defense the caliber of the Cards.
“Having a real good offense, and a 1,500-yard rusher, and taking care of the football, that’s helped us out a lot,” Marion said. “No matter how great your defense plays, athletes are going to make plays if you give them enough chances.”