CLEARWATER — Clearwater Central Catholic coach John Davis gleefully tinkers with his offense like a locksmith in a maze of doors.
On defense, Davis just tries to stay out the way.
“The most I’ll do is see if a player is hustling toward the ball,” Davis said.
But the defense is doing more than just complementing the Marauders’ high-powered offense this season. Built with quickness, CCC’s defenders are hard-hitting, strong in pass coverage and take as much pride in preventing points as the offense does in scoring them.
In the past five games, the Marauders (6-1, 1-0) have allowed a combined 14 points, including three shutouts. It is a big reason CCC has a shot to end Berkeley Prep’s 19-game regular-season win streak in Friday’s Class 3A, District 5 showdown.
“If we had not allowed late touchdowns in our last two games, we might be looking at five straight shutouts,” Davis said. “I get labeled a lot for focusing entirely on offense, but if you look at us more closely we have most of our best athletes on defense.”
There are plenty of athletes. Caanan Brown (6.5 sacks) and Jordan Adderly (six sacks) put pressure on the quarterback. Ethan Thompson (63 tackles) can race sideline to sideline pursuing running backs. And Calvin Pringles (one interception) and Trey Larry (eight passes defended) provide blanket coverage.
“Our defense just hustles to the ball,” Brown said. “Everybody wants to get to whoever has the ball at the same time.”
This swarming mentality became the focus after a lackluster effort in which the Marauders allowed 36 points in a season-opening loss to East Lake. CCC had players who cramped up during the game, but Davis said the reason the defense allowed so many points and yards rushing (274) went deeper than that.
“We just got gutted in that game,” Davis said. “It came down to fundamentals.”
There is nothing in football more basic than tackling. This is the primary requirement that every coach, regardless of his scheme, demands.
The Marauders fixed things by stressing pursuit, relentlessness, passion, sound technique and knowing where help is originating from while making the tackle.
Since the opening week, CCC has allowed fewer than 100 yards rushing per game. The ability to stifle opponents has also helped the Marauders offense.
“It has allowed us to take a few more shots down the field,” Davis said. “We can gamble a little bit more because we know our defense can still make a stop if something doesn’t work. It has given us more confidence and is probably a big reason why we’ve had more big plays this season.”
Offense is exciting, but it is defense that can give CCC its first district title since 2006.
Bob Putnam can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @BobbyHomeTeam.