No passing zone: Change in defense helps Chieftains defend pass better in 2009Published 8:47am Friday, October 30, 2009
By SCOTT NOVAK
Dowagiac Daily News
In an era of footballs flying all over the field and spread offenses, the Dowagiac secondary has developed a “no passing zone” mentality against its opponents.
The Chieftains will need its improved secondary to come up big again tonight as Dowagiac heads north to take on Hamilton in the opening round of the Michigan High School Athletic Association football playoffs.
It may have been born out of necessity to compete in the pass-happy Wolverine Conference, but having the athletes to play more man-to-man coverage allowed the Chieftain coaching staff to make the switch this past summer from the usual zone defense.
The decision to switch from zone to more man-to-man didn’t happen overnight.
The Chieftain coaching staff did its homework, went to clinics and listened to some quality coaches such as those at Michigan State and Grand Valley State University.
Head coach Mike Stanger and assistants Pat Lyle, Matt Alward and Andy Crawley started to implement the switch during the Chieftains’ 10-day camp this past summer.
Then, Dowagiac used it during the summer 7-on-7 passing league that it participates in. To say it didn’t get off to a very good start might be an understatement.
“We all met and solidified how we wanted to work it,” Stanger said. “We went through all the steps. We worked on the man press and we took our lumps at first. We ran it against Buchanan and Niles one day and we wondered how bright we were to be doing this.”
“It was like a jail break,” chimed in Lyle, who calls the defense for the Chieftains.
Slowly, but surely the team began to grasp the concepts and as they became familiar with the defense, really began to shine.
“The kids say they are more comfortable playing it,” Lyle said.
“It helps to have the athletes back there to play man,” Stanger added.
Stanger added that he and his staff knew that playing against all the spread teams in the Wolverine Conference made the switch important for the success of the program.
The Chieftain secondary is made up of Troy Butcher, Ryne Lindsey, Cody Klomes, Kyle Wright, Mike Bennett and Colin Tidey.
“We knew it was there,” Stanger said. “Butcher had a year under his belt at corner and watching Ryne Lindsey last year on the JV we knew he was solid. We thought they could run with most people in the conference. The only thing that worries me is the height disadvantage when we go up against those 6-foot-3 and 6-foot-4 receivers, but they have still got the job done.”
Lindsey leads Dowagiac with five interceptions and to fumble recoveries, while Butcher has two interceptions. The Chieftain defense has nine interceptions as a hole and has only allowed eight touchdown passes this season.
That’s quite an improvement over past seasons.
Dowagiac allowed 15 touchdown passes the previous two seasons and 17 the year before that.
Opponents have thrown for 1,130 yards this season and are 77-of-175 through the air.
That entire yardage may sound like a lot, but the Chieftains are forcing their opponents to earn every yard.
Three Rivers threw for 311 of those yards in Dowagiac’s lone loss this season. No other team has thrown for more than 176 yards. That came the week following against Allegan in a game that the Chieftains got out in front early and then turned it over to the reserves for much of the second half.
Three Rivers also had half of the touchdown passes allowed by Dowagiac this season.
Teams have been forced to throw the ball against the Chieftains this season as Dowagiac has allowed just 627 yards rushing or an average of 70 yards per game.
When the opponents do drop back to pass, they run the risk of getting pressure from all over the football field.
The Chieftains have 32 sacks heading into tonight’s contest, more than the last two years combined.
“Our success in the secondary goes hand in hand with our ability to pressure the quarterback,” Stanger pointed out.
Dowagiac will need to bring its best tonight against the Hawkeyes as Hamilton quarterback Evan Mudd has already thrown for over 1,000 yards this season.
With Stanger feeling confident about being able to stop the running game, which is anchored by Arik Spotts, who scored five touchdowns last week against Wyoming Park, it will be up to the Chieftain secondary to once again make it a no passing zone.