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Improved defense key to White Oak's success

By Brandon Ogden
Dec. 11, 2013 at 11 p.m.


WHITE OAK - The White Oak Roughnecks entered this season knowing they could put up points on offense.

To achieve their goals, they knew they had to be better on the defensive side of the football.

"The first year Coach (Gerry) Stanford was here, we gave up a lot of points on defense," senior Gabe Michael said. "We took offense to that and wanted to get better on defense. We know that defense wins championships, and we take pride in the fact that we are strong on defense."

White Oak, which allowed 29.4 points per game in 2011 and 23.8 per clip in 2012, is holding opponents to just 12.9 points per game this season. And in turn, the Roughnecks are one win away from playing for a state championship.

But first, White Oak must go through defending state champion Cameron Yoe, which comes in averaging 45.8 points per game.

"The main thing is we want to be consistent in what we do," White Oak defensive coordinator Kris Iske said. "We have to be sound and not get beat because of alignment. We have to do the small things right."

"We have to focus on us and do what we've done all year," junior Jake Pullen said. "We need to continue to cause turnovers."

Forcing turnovers is something the Roughnecks have done well all season. White Oak has caused 31 turnovers this season, including five in last week's win over Franklin.

"The kids take pride in creating turnovers, and they do a great job of being in the right spot and trying to strip the ball," Iske said.

"Every day, we work on stripping the ball," senior Hayden Nichols said. "We want to cause turnovers and get our offense back on the field."

One of the turnovers forced last week was Michael taking the ball from a ball carrier after he had gained big yardage.

"It was right after we fumbled, so I didn't want them to gain momentum," Michael said. "I saw an opportunity to get the ball, so I reached in and grabbed it."

Pullen, who leads the team with 200 tackles, recorded his first two interceptions of the season against Franklin. The first one was on the opening possession of the game to set up the Roughnecks' first touchdown. The other iced the game late in the fourth quarter.

"It was a big momentum boost," Pullen said. "We wanted to get the lead early, so it was big to get our offense on the field quick with an interception."

"That set the tone," Iske said. "He's done a great job all year spearheading our defense. It was good for him to get his first interception in a big moment."

White Oak's defensive dominance last week - forcing five turnovers and posting a shutout - came against an offense that entered the game averaging 48.5 points per game. It also came one week after the Roughnecks surrendered a season-high 36 points to Newton.

"Coach Iske had a great gameplan," Stanford said. "We had some matchup concerns, knowing they had a dominant offense. We challenged the kids to be physical and get 11 people to the ball, and they did a great job."

Iske said a big key to the White Oak defense has been up front.

"Our defensive line sets the tone," Iske said. "Whether it's stopping the run or getting a good rush on the quarterback, the defensive line is a really big factor in our success. Those guys are the heart and soul of our defense."

Members of the line are Jason Heim, Kris Layman, Dee Sutton, Levi Loftis and Nichols.

"We stick together and work hard every day," Layman said. "We do what we can to get pressure and make plays."

"We get after it and set the tone off the ball," Sutton said. "We know we have to play as a unit."

The White Oak defense has allowed more than 14 points in just three games all season. The Roughnecks have recorded two shutouts and held seven opponents to single digits.

White Oak will face Cameron Yoe (13-1) in the Class 2A, Division I semifinals at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Eagle Stadium in Allen.

<em>(Follow Brandon Ogden on Twitter: <a href="https://twitter.com/brandonosports" target="_blank">@BrandonOSports</a>)</em>

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