MIDLOTHIAN — John Tyler’s stop unit knows it goes without saying what wins championships.
The JT defense faces a tall order today, one the front seven intends to stand up to.
With JT’s offense leading all teams left in the postseason with an average of nearly 50 points per game in the postseason, the Lions know more stops mean more touchdowns.
“If they can’t score they can’t win,” said JT senior defensive end Tyus Bowser, who leads JT with 21 sacks. “If you are able to do that, and if we’re able to stop this great Denton Guyer team, we’re able to get to the championship.”
Few teams solved Guyer’s offense through 14 games, one averaging more than 45 points and 471 yards per game. JT hopes to resemble the team that averaged three takeaways per game on the road to the state semifinals.
“The defense is going to have to step up and play big,” JT head coach Ricklan Holmes said. “There’s a lot of things that don’t go right during a game. You have to make sure the things that do go right count for something. That’s where we’ve been making our living, forcing turnovers and making the big stops when we need. We’ve been living and dying by that all year. Our defense is 100 percent better than last year.”
JT’s defense turned into a team strength after ending last year on a sour note in a 51-20 loss to Waco Midway in the state semifinals. The Lions kept the defeat in the back of their mind up until getting back to the same juncture.
“I’ve been thinking about it since last year, that loss to Midway,” said JT senior linebacker Richard Gipson, who paces the Lions with 125 tackles. “Just seeing how close we were, we don’t want to have the same results.”
The JT defense prides itself on forcing turnovers, adding three takeaways last week. JT’s turnover-ratio stands at plus-24 entering today. JT adjusted from allowing 229 yards and 14 points in the first half against Frisco Centennial to limiting the Titans to 10 points and coming up with three turnovers in the second half of a 38-24 come-from-behind win.
“We’ve been playing good this whole year,” said JT senior defensive end Kavante Jefferson, who has recovered three fumbles for the Lions. “We’ve had ups and downs, but we always seem to bounce back.”
The inside duo of Mobley and Miller in the middle solidify the Lions. After allowing 45 rushing TDs last year, JT has given up only 11 scores on the ground in 14 games. Mobley moved from his offensive line position to join Miller, helping JT lower its rushing defense by 91 yards since a year ago.
“That’s our goal, to get after it,” said Miller, a senior defensive tackle who has 73 tackles on the year. “We’re just going to talk with our pads and take care of business. Last year we pointed fingers. Now if we make a mistake we encourage each other.”
All three JT linebackers came up with takeaways last week, with Gipson and Clark intercepting passes and DeQuante Woods recovering a fumble.
“We just have to play together and be on the same page and execute, from the first to the last play,” said Gipson, who intercepted a pass last week before injuring his thumb, now in a cast. “We just have to go play like we’ve been all year and we’ll be fine.”
This week, JT hopes to turn Guyer into a passing team, a daunting challenge seeing the Wildcats rushed for more than 71 TDs in the first 14 games.
“The linebackers have to take care of our responsibilities,” said JT junior linebacker Andrew Clark, who notched one of the team’s three interceptions last week. “We have to fill gaps and do what we have to do to stop the run.”
A business-like atmosphere permeated JT’s practices during the week, exemplified by Mobley.
“We’re just focusing on stopping the run,” said Mobley, who has 89 tackles for the season, in addition to moonlighting on offense occasionally. “The D-line’s main focus is to get them off their game and stop their run and get them to throw.
“It’s time to get serious. This is when it really counts.”
The Lions refuse to celebrate now, preferring to wait eight days from today if things go as planned.
“We all have that one goal: a state championship,” Bowser said. “We’re working hard to get to that point.”