By Kenton Brooks
Phoenix Sports Writer
For Hilldale’s defense, the adjustments were simple — but they paid off in a big way.
With the Hornets trailing Verdigris 20-7 at halftime, defensive coordinator Travis Bryant told the players in the locker room about the changes he was going to make.
He moved defensive end Eli Lawley out a step wider on the line of scrimmage, shifted safety Miles Jackson a step closer and kept outside linebacker Jamaul Cullom at his position — all of this after Verdigris had success in running to Hilldale’s weakside in the first half.
The weakside was no longer weak.
The Cardinals’ running back duo of Tanner Smith and J.D. Hanslovan could only manage a combined 59 rushing yards in the last two quarters as the Hornets roared to the 36-23 second-round playoff victory.
“Looking at them on film, we thought they were a right-handed team,” Bryant said. “We made the adjustments where they were lined up against our defensive end and linebacker. We also thought we could get enough pressure on them.”
The Cardinals only had the ball for three plays on their first possession in the second half before having to punt to Hilldale.
“We could feel it starting to turn our way there,” Bryant said. “We had watched them on film and saw they were getting five, six yards at a time on teams. We wanted to force them to throw the ball because they weren’t a good throwing team.”
The Hornets look to carry that defensive momentum into Friday’s Class 3A quarterfinal game at Blanchard. They don’t want to wait to the second half to make adjustments as the Lions bring the spread offense into the game.
Quarterback Brock Lamle has thrown for 2,041 yards and three receivers each have at least 519 yards in catches. Also, tailback Braden Stringer has 1,142 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns.
“They’ve got a lot of good athletes in a lot of spots,” Bryant said. “They’re disciplined in what they do. We have to be solid in the secondary with our coverage because they like to go deep. We also have to make sure we tackle.”
To hear the Hilldale players tell it, they like playing against a team that runs the spread.
“We just have to be on our toes,” Cullom, the second-leading tackler with 115, said. “We’ll be ready.”
Josh Giem, who leads the Hornets in tackles with 155, said he’s comfortable playing against the spread.
“They don’t do a lot of misdirection and it’s easier for me to read,” said Josh Giem, the only guy in front of Cullom in the tackle category. “They may do some different stuff, but we’ll be OK because we’ve also got good defensive backs.”
Bryant is equally confident going into the game against the team that was ranked No. 10 in final Associated Press poll.
“We have 23 interceptions as a team this year and only given up four or five touchdown passes,” he said. “When a team is throwing it like Blanchard does, that’s why I like our chances.”