Unbeaten Pirates’ versatile defense leads to easy win, advancement in postseason

Unbeaten Pirates’ versatile defense leads to easy win, advancement in postseason

Image Credit: Dave Mast

When Div. V, Region 17 Garaway hosted Ravenna Southeast on The Hill in Sugarcreek on Saturday, Nov. 6, Garaway entered as the favorite, being the No. 3 seed hosting a No. 6 seed and having the game on their home turf.

However, few expected Garaway (12-0) to thump Southeast (9-2) to the point where Southeast had packed it in at the half.

That is exactly how things played out in Garaway’s 48-7 blowout win, and it all came down to the Pirates’ defense just whittling away Southeast’s will throughout the first half.

After Garaway quarterback Logan Yoder struck gold to give Garaway the edge, Southeast answered, and after Ethan Miller ran one in from 7 yards to push Garaway’s lead to 13-7, Southeast responded by driving down the field, only to have ball-hawking junior defensive back Brady Roden make an interception in the end zone to thwart the drive.

Garaway would move the ball, and Yoder would take a high snap from center at the Southeast 19 on a play designed for Miller. Because of the snap, he couldn’t make the hand-off. Instead, he weaved his way to a 19-yard score and a 20-7 lead.

A Ty Winters interception would give the Pirates a chance to build the lead, and it would be Yoder cashing in to make it 27-7. Attempting to gain some momentum before the half, Southeast pushed the ball downfield, where Roden added to his school-record interception total, picking off a pass at midfield and working his way to the Southeast 5-yard line, where the Pirates went to their diesel package and Miller banged his way home for a 34-7 lead.

Now reeling, Southeast tried to gain ground through the air but was forced to punt with little time left in the half. However, Jenson Garber returned the ensuing punt to Southeast’s 34, and Miller snared a crossing pass and zig-zagged his way in for a score before the half, which gave the Pirates a 41-7 lead.

When Southeast returned to the field in the second half, it was evident they were done.

For a game that looked bound to be even before Roden’s pick in the end zone, this one turned into an unexpected laugher that nobody saw coming, and it was Garaway’s defense that made the biggest impact on the outcome, setting up the offense time and again to add to the lead.

This season has seen the Pirates post the school’s first-ever 12-0 record, and it has belonged to a defense that has sparkled throughout. A defensive front seven has been incredibly fast and aggressive to the ball, and the defensive backfield has racked up plenty of turnovers.

The focus on creating a relentless defense based on the team’s speed begins with head coach Jason Wallick, who has turned the keys over to defensive coordinator Wes Hostetler.

Anyone who remembers Hostetler’s days as a player can recall him displaying that same all-out effort, and his defense has displayed that same aggressive style of play.

“It all starts with coach Wallick,” Hostetler said of the Pirates’ defense. “He always says, ‘If you’re thinking, you’re stinking.’ My job is to let the kids play. We’ve kept things really simple and just let their athleticism take over and not do too much overthinking. Just go play hard and fast.”

Hostetler said he called just two plays in the game, noting all the preparation and coaching took place throughout the week in practice and in watching film. Hostetler said linebacker Sam Page was basically calling plays all night because of that preparation, and the defensive line did their jobs in tying up lanes to allow the linebackers to swarm ball carriers.

Hostetler said a big key is showing the defense every possible game-night option during practice so they are aware of anything that might take place. He said much of the team’s success has been the team’s ability to integrate what they have learned on to the field on game night. That means this group isn’t just quick and athletic, but also very smart.

“We’re learning from our mistakes, which is great to see,” Hostetler said. “Ty Winters did that tonight and made an interception. These kids are extremely intelligent. They understand what we are trying to do.”

The other game plan is to make the other team cough up the football, another tactic Hostetler excelled at in his playing days in high school and college. He said regardless of how the offense is performing or what the score is, their job is to force turnovers and make plays.

“That’s our philosophy,” Hostetler said.

Hostetler’s high energy in practice and on the sideline feeds the Pirates’ defense. He said teams need that kind of emotion because football is an emotional game. He said while he can get amped up, it is a collective effort from the coaching staff that allows the players to do their thing on the field, but it all begins at the top.

“Coach Wallick has given me more freedom than I could have asked for,” Hostetler said. “It’s a collective effort, and most importantly, the kids have caught the vision of what we want to do and done everything we’ve asked of them. I’m never satisfied, and I think that mind-set has rubbed off on the kids.”

Page, the captain of the defense, said the unity the group has built has been a collective effort that has helped cement the strength of not just the defense, but also the Pirates as a whole.

“It’s been a collective effort, and it shows on the field,” Page said. “You learn to trust your brothers out there no matter what, and we are there to pick each other up.”

Page said he watched his freshman season as the seniors exhibited greater leadership, and he is striving to do the same thing for the underclassmen this season.

“We’re out there playing for each other,” Page said. “It’s been amazing.”