Longview wouldn’t be playing the week of Thanksgiving without its defensive performances throughout the season.

The Lobos will need another strong outing in Friday’s regional semifinal if they want to upset defending Class 5A Division I state champion and current 11-1 Denton Ryan. The teams have a scheduled 3 p.m. kickoff, and will square off at Mesquite Memorial Stadium for the second year in a row.

The 9-3 Lobos are preparing for their 25th game since the start of the 2020 season and their second straight trip to the third round of the postseason. In the 22 games against teams not named Denton Ryan, they have limited opponents to 18.6 points per game. On the flip side, when the Lobos faced the Raiders in last year’s regional semifinal and the 2021 season opener, they allowed an average of 33.5 points in those losses.

“I think we’ve had great effort and execution, and our defense has given us a bunch of opportunities to win games, particularly late like we’ve seen in district and playoff games,” Longview athletic director and head football coach John King said of his team’s defensive unit throughout the 2021 season.

“It’s no different than the first two playoff rounds,” King said of his team’s approach in this week’s rematch with Denton Ryan. “We can’t have busted assignments, missed alignments, pre and post-snap penalties, and we’ve got to tackle in space.”

That’s why Longview is pushing for the better version of its defense this week.

The same one that has shutout three opponents in a season for the first time since 2019, and produced 92 tackles for loss, 35 sacks, 32 pass break-ups, 19 interceptions, 15 forced fumbles, nine fumble recoveries, three punt blocks, three defensive touchdowns and one blocked kick throughout the first 12 games of the 2021 season.

“To me, the best pass defense is a good pass rush,” said King. “A lot of the stats we have showing up is from being able to get pressure on the quarterback and forcing them to make throws. But, our secondary challenges routes, makes it difficult to get the ball out fast, and allows you to get to the quarterback.”

Luckily for the Lobos, they have plenty of firepower and depth on that side of the ball to step up again this week.

That starts with the secondary because Longview features three notable performers at the defensive back position. That includes sophomores Chase Smith and Willie Nelson, and junior Ta’Darion Boone.

Smith has earned 86 tackles, five pass break-ups, four interceptions, three tackles for loss, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery this season, while Nelson has excelled with his 69 tackles, eight interceptions, six pass break-ups, four tackles for loss, two defensive touchdowns and one forced fumble.

You also can’t ignore the well-versed Boone, who has recorded 81 tackles, six tackles for loss, one interception, one blocked punt, one forced fumble, one pass break-up and one sack.

“Turnovers are huge,” said King. “That’s a big part of the game and it’s a momentum shift. We’ve been fortunate to get a bunch of those this year. Our defense has been opportunistic. It comes back to playing team defense, and players feeding off each other.”

Turning to the linebacker corps, you have a solid senior in Devean Isaac, who has recorded 100 tackles, eight tackles for loss, three forced fumbles, three sacks, two interceptions and one blocked kick. Teaming up with him is valuable junior Kaden Brooks, who has earned 62 tackles, 14 tackles for loss, seven and a half sacks, one interception, one pass break-up and one defensive touchdown.

And you can’t ignore defensive linemen Jeremiah Rougely and Jessie Fairchild in the trenches. The junior Rougely has produced 59 tackles, 14 tackles for loss, 10 sacks, four forced fumbles and one blocked punt, while the senior Fairchild has earned 36 tackles, five tackles for loss and a pair of sacks.

“It’s about what they do during practice that carries over to the game,” King said of his team’s top defensive performers this season. “Making plays, and having great effort and all the things it takes.”

“Being unselfish, playing within the confines of the defensive schemes, and not freelancing,” he added. “It takes a lot to perform well, and it’s not always what you see in the stats that pop out. It’s what you’re doing play in and play out. That’s what great defensive football is.”

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Follow Thomas Bingham on Twitter: @Texan8thGen

Howdy y'all! I'm the Longview News-Journal's multimedia sports reporter. I have deep East Texas roots and love covering the region's stories and games. I graduated from UT, and have covered sports in different parts of Texas throughout my career.