Gardner – PikeView’s defense was anything but noteworthy through the team’s first two games. After yielding 49 and 48 points in back-to-back weeks the Panthers needed to find a way to stop the bleeding.
It took six quarters but they found a groove.
The Panther defense allowed just one touchdown against Van in the second half of a 48-25 Week 2 loss and since they’ve been lights out, outscoring their last two opponents 41-0.
“Against Van we figured out we needed to be more aggressive,” Pikeview coach Jason Spears said. “We needed to be more aggressive and play our positions. There’s games I wish we could go back on, and I know the boys do too, but if we had stepped up like we did in that second half against Van we might have a different record but there’s more leadership and more communication and they’re starting to talk out there. If we’re in a cover 3 they play their position. There’s a competition and Brian (Huggins) makes a great middle linebacker because he’s a leader there. Marcus Matney and Jason Cochran are blasting through the line. They’re finally realizing if we go all out we’re going to change the gameplan for the other team.”
The realization has come after encouragement from the leadership group which includes not only the coaches but a select group of players. Spearheading that effort is linebacker Brian Huggins, a transfer from Graham, Va., a team that finished as the 2A state runner-up in Virginia last fall.
The senior has taken on a mentor roll, earning the trust of his coaches almost immediately. He’s exercised patience in getting his younger teammates up to speed.
“We had a lot of new guys come in and I don’t think they realized how fast the game was and what their responsibilities were early,” Huggins said. “They didn’t quite know what they needed to do play after play to be successful and we just went and worked on it and started explaining and doing more individual practice. We’ve focused more on individual jobs and started executing. I tell them when we’re watching film that if everyone does their job on each play, we should win every rep. I just figured that helped out a lot and our defensive line really upped their game too.
“We’ve been switching people in and out. We might have one guy that plays defensive end and we bump him to linebacker. We’re working on our execution and making everybody better.”
Spears agrees finding roles better suited for his players has helped the turnaround as well. It also helps that he has the ability to do so, a luxury unavailable during his first two years at Pikeview when he was barely fielding enough players for a team by the end of the year.
“We moved around some people based off their speed and what they do,” Spears said. “That’s one thing about it. In the past at PikeView we never had depth. If I have to replace a linebacker with another one, we’re okay. We moved Kalum Kiser to outside linebacker and he can also play strong safety. Braiden Mullins can do the same things and we’re able to tweak some things.”
Further powering the defensive turnaround is the ball-control style the Panthers have deployed over the last few weeks, keeping the ball on the ground to extend drives and limit the opposing team’s possessions. The result has been a historic stretch for the Panthers who have only pitched two shutouts in a single season one other time in program history – 1996. Even then those feats weren’t consecutive.
The stretch of dominance on that side of the ball has catapulted the Panthers from an afterthought in the playoff picture to just outside at No. 18.
“There’s a long way to go and I tell them to keep that eye on the prize with making the playoffs. We’re going to take it one week at a time but it’s exciting when you see some people had us dead last in double-A. Those are the people you want to shut up and continue to move up the ranks to prove them wrong.”
The turnaround has been exciting, but the new philosophy of not looking backwards helps keep the Panthers in check. They’ve celebrated their wins but aren’t falling into the trap of living in the previous week. That’s brought the team to its current objective – spoiling Shady Spring’s homecoming Friday night.
The Tigers have stumbled to a 1-3 start and were shutout last week by county rival Independence but feature dynamic skill players in Tyler Mackey and Adam Richmond as well as a capable QB in Brady Green.
“We preached right after the Van game that we’re starting over and not going backwards,” Spears said. “We lost those first two and we can’t get them back so we’re going to move forward. When we got the win against Liberty I told them we were moving on to Westside. After we beat Westside I told them we’re on to Shady. They’re excited and winning always feels good. They want to continue that and surprise some people.”
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