Defense has paved the way for the Minden Crimson Tide through five games.
The Tide have put up three shutouts in five games, but if coach Spencer Heard wants to stay unbeaten Friday night in The Pit against a potent Benton offense he will need the Crimson Swarm’s best game yet.
“I thought we were lacking a little focus the past couple of weeks to be honest with you,” Heard said. “I could tell a big difference in how tight everything was at practice. These guys are ready to play and they definitely won’t need any help to get motivated.”
The Crimson Tide defense is led by a ferocious trio of linebackers.
It starts with the versatile Zi’Kerrion Baker. The 6-foot-1 senior has shined through five games, already recording a 3-sack game against Fair Park. Cameron Morgan, another senior, mans the middle, and at 6-foot-1, 255-pounds he tends to win one-on-one battles in the trenches. Rising junior Ty’Christopher Harris, probably the most fluid athlete of the bunch, roams the field cleaning up whatever manages to get by his mates.
“It’s probably the best group of linebackers on the same team I’ve ever been around,” Heard said earlier this season. “They compliment each other really well and they’ve got a lot of experience on the field together and have seen everything from an offensive standpoint.”
The front four has been bolstered by the addition of a pair of sophomores in Braxton Jackson and Jwan Pickens. The Tide were lacking run-stuffers last season, and ideally you wouldn’t want to count as sophomores at such vital positions, but the duo has done commendable work through the season’s first half and have earned the trust of their head coach.
“The main thing with them is their size,” Heard said. “The fact they’re bigger kids helps you hold up inside the box in terms of the inside run game. It allows you to do some things with coverages and blitzes. They’ve done a good job and coach Wise has done a good job of keeping the kids fresh by rotating in different packages for speed and size as well. There mass in the middle was definitely something we were lacking last year.”
The secondary was a question mark initially, and inexperience reared it’s ugly head in the Tide’s jamboree matchup. However, the Tide’s back-half has managed to keep opposing air attacks from having much success.
I think they’re ready,” Heard said. “We’ll have to see once we get out there, but I think we have a good plan in place. It’s going to boil down to execution. We’ll have them in the right place, but there’s going to come times when they’re going to have to make plays. We dropped a couple of interceptions last week, and we’re going to need those guys to come up with those this week.”
For each level of the vaunted Tide D, this week provides the season’s biggest test to date.
Benton Quarterback Garrett Hable is a 3-year starter for the Tigers. The veteran signal-caller has seen it all and won’t be bothered by the big stage. He’s also working with what might be his most talented supporting cast in his time as the starter for Benton.
The Tigers have a backfield tandem to envy with Jermaine Newton and Keldrick Moody. Hable also has speedy underneath weapons to pick from, most notably Doyle Adams, but it’s rangy 6-foot-4 wideout John Westmoreland that Hable will go to when he needs a big play.
Heard will likely turn to Leonardo McCarter to check Westmoreland in man coverage, despite the Benton wideout holding a 8-inch height advantage.
“We really don’t worry about that,” Heard said. “We’re going to play our defense. We’ve played some tall guys already. It’s really about body position. If you can put yourself in the right spot on his body, the height may not be much of a factor. If you get beat and then you’re trying to recover that space against a big guy, then it becomes an issue. But the other kid, Doyle Adams is a good one too. We have to limit them on the big plays; that’s how they got North DeSoto last week.”
This game will likely determine a champion in 1-4A. If the Tide come out on top, they’ll be favored the rest of the way, despite Minden still having a tough game to play against North DeSoto. Should Benton win, it’s likely smooth sailing to a second-straight 1-4A championship.
The district’s best offense and best defense square off in The Pit at 7 p.m.