LITHIA — Josh Black smiled.
“That was fun,” he said.
The Sickles linebacker’s job Thursday night? To hit the fullback every play.
And if he didn’t have the ball, hit him anyway. So Black did, charging through the line and laying enough wood to build a fence around Lithia.
Coming into Thursday’s game, Newsome’s fullback, Travis Hempstead, had been hit before but never stopped. Through two games, he had 245 yards and three touchdowns.
Sickles hit him and stopped him. It wasn’t his fault, of course. His line didn’t block well, and a gang of Gryphons seemed to be in the backfield on every play.
In a battle undefeated teams that have both made us say “hmmm...” this season, it was all Gryphons, 27-7.
Hempstead had 30 yards rushing, and the usually effective and finely tuned running game of the Wolves sputtered.
“That was the plan,” said running back Ray Ray McCloud, who did his thing on the other side in another impressive victory for the Gryphons. Tampa Bay’s best running back — can we say that yet? — busted off a long touchdown run, ran for 207 yards and even subbed in at quarterback when Issac Holder was injured for a series. Drove Sickles right into the end zone, though a penalty negated it.
But it wasn’t just Ray Ray’s show Thursday.
When asked how the Gryphons held Ray Ray’s counterpart to so few yards, coach Brian Turner looked right at the question and devoured it.
“We have a great defense,” he said.
And that’s that.
Black was terrific against Newsome, managing to dig his nose to almost every play.
Turner credited his players for buying in to the defensive coaches, namely coordinator Kirk Karsen, whom the head coach described as a “film maniac” who was practically breaking down plays right up until kickoff.
Black was also effusive in praise for the plan, to shadow the fullback and disrupt the flow.
“We had to execute the game plan because they execute their game perfectly,” said Black, a senior and a Division I-A prospect. “My job was to pound and pound on that fullback. Wherever he go, I’m going with him no matter where it’s at.
“I felt very much disruptive.”
“Josh Black is an animal, but there are a lot of other guys on the defense,” Turner said.
But we knew that already.
Black told us, when he turned his head toward some of his teammates as they headed to the bus, giving a quiet shout-out to fellow linebacker Logan Braswell, defensive end Deven Santana and defensive back Wes Harris.
“All phenomenal,” Black said.
The only thing Black didn’t get to wrap his hands around Thursday was a shutout. The Wolves converted a late interception thrown by the backup quarterback into a score, but just the one.
The last time Newsome scored seven points was 2011. The last time it scored so few points at home, though, was Sept. 4, 2009, against Armwood.
Sickles has beaten three playoff teams in three weeks: Robinson and Newsome were state semifinalists last year, and Durant was 10-0.
All those teams lost key components — many of them, actually — from last year’s squads, but Sickles’ 3-0 start is for real.
There are tougher games ahead. In a few weeks, they will play Plant. There are district games against Gaither and Tampa Bay Tech looming. And archrival Alonso awaits.
But Sickles is for real, and ready, Black says.
“If we keep playing like this,” he said, “we can shut anybody down.”