Spring Hill forced 3 turnovers with agressive defensive approach in opener
Sept. 4, 2013 at 10 p.m.
<a href="http://www.news-journal.com/etvarsity/high_school/schools/spring_hill/" target="_blank">Spring Hill</a> had a hard time keeping opponents off the scoreboard in 2012.
The Panthers allowed 34.3 points per game last season - 53.8 over the final four contests.
Enter new head coach Mark Sartain and his staff, and an emphasis was put on changing the defensive mindset.
"The biggest change was the mentality," Sartain said. "The formation hasn't changed; it's still a 4-2-5. We just changed the flavor and philosophy. We want to be more attack-oriented."
That change in attitude was evident in Spring Hill's <a href="http://www.news-journal.com/etvarsity/high_school/spring-hill-eases-past-pleasant-grove-in-home-opener/article_fa3ef6bc-11ef-11e3-acc8-001a4bcf887a.html" target="_blank">season-opening 24-6 victory</a> against Pleasant Grove. The Panthers allowed 285 yards of offense to the Hawks, but when a big play was needed, Spring Hill delivered.
"It was far from dominant," Sartain said. "They moved the ball against us. But we played hard and did a good job of recovering when we needed to.
"We had a goal-line stand and three other fourth-down stops (in the second half). We also did a good job of forcing them into errors."
The Panthers forced three turnovers, turning two of them into touchdowns.
After Pleasant Grove intercepted a pass deep in its own territory in the final two minutes, senior defensive lineman Morgan Knight sacked Pleasant Grove quarterback Dylan Silvey in the end zone and knocked the ball loose. Junior Hagen Tucker recovered the ball in the end zone for a Spring Hill touchdown.
"We were playing aggressive and not being passive," Sartain said. "When we do that, good things will happen."
The other defensive touchdown for Spring Hill came when junior Ben Robinett scooped up a loose ball on a mishandled lateral and sprinted 39 yards for a touchdown.
"That was a very heady play by (Robinett)," Sartain said. "He realized it was a lateral and made the play. I was excited to see that."
"It was really cool," said Robinett, who was making his first varsity start. "The game is a lot more fast-paced than JV. It felt good to be able to score a defensive touchdown. I saw one guy behind me, but I knew I could make it."
Tucker's performance was enough to earn him ETVarsity.com Defensive Player of the Week honors. He had nine tackles – five for loss – with two sacks, two passes broken up and the fumble recovery for a touchdown.
"I was really honored," Tucker said. "I had never gotten anything like that. I'm a no-name junior from a small school. I didn't expect that."
Knight also had a big game for the Panthers. Aside from forcing the fumble, he had eight tackles and two sacks.
"We came out with a relentless mindset," the senior said. "Even when they scored, I said that we were going to block the extra point. It ended up hitting me in the forehead.
"It never felt like we weren't going to stop them. The coaches did a good job of firing us up and getting us prepared."
Tucker and Knight, along with senior Nick Irwin and sophomore Breylon Bradford, man the defensive front, which Sartain said is definitely a strength of the Panther defense.
"I think our physicality up front is very strong," the coach said. "We are relatively inexperienced behind them. But they do a good job of creating havoc and disrupting the offense."
"Our defensive line gets after the ball," said Robinett, a strong safety. "They were a big reason why we got the two touchdowns."
Robinett had seven tackles in the win, and Irwin recorded six tackles. Other defensive standouts for the Panthers against Pleasant Grove were Chris Fisher, eight tackles; Dylan Evans, seven tackles; and Eric Jiminez with a fumble recovery.
Trying to start a season 2-0 for the first time since 2005, Spring Hill now turns its attention to Athens.
"We have to forget about the last game," Tucker said. "One win is good, but we want more than one win. We have to come ready to work and play with intensity."
"Against Athens, we can't allow the big play," Sartain said. "They will grind, grind and then Pow! If you load up to stop some of their basic stuff, sometimes you are exposed in other areas."
Spring Hill hosts Athens at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Panther Stadium. Athens was a 31-25 winner over Kaufman in the opener.
<em>(Follow Brandon Ogden on Twitter: <a href="https://twitter.com/brandonosports" target="_blank">@BrandonOSports</a>).</em>