By Rory Sharrock
(Editor's Note: This is the third story in a series of reports on Mt. Zion's Class AAAA playoff game at Marist Friday, Nov. 28)
The holiday season is supposed to be a joyous time for sharing and giving.
Apparently, Mt. Zion's defensive core didn't get the memo.
The Bulldogs' 11-man wrecking ball crew has made it almost impossible to move the football, let alone score, during the playoffs and they have no intentions of letting up as they go deeper into the postseason.
During the regular season, Mt. Zion gave up 182 points, which averaged out to 18.2 per game. But in the playoffs, they've cut that margin down significantly, allowing only 10 points in two game.
In its opening round game, Mt. Zion knocked Evans from the ranks of the unbeaten by blowing out the Knights 36-10.
Last week in the second round, the defense continued to guard its end zone as if there was a treasure chest buried underground by blanking the Ware County Gators 19-0. The lone touchdown that was surrendered during this playoff run came late in the fourth quarter of the game at Evans when the junior varsity reserves were on the field during mop up duty.
Mt. Zion's speed, toughness and aggressive attitude on defense has paced the squad all year and its perhaps the main reason why its still playing deep into November. The Bulldogs pay strict attention to every detail and stress playing assignment football to ware down the opposition.
"It's all about assignment football - just being disciplined and playing your assignment," said assistant coach Chris Jones.
"The key to playing good defense is not getting so caught up and trying to make plays, but playing assignment football. Making sure you're in the right spot and lined up correctly to flow to the football. I emphasize being physical all the time. If you're more physical than you're opponent, at the end of the game, you have the opportunity to have the advantage."
This approach fits well into the team's system and as a collective group, they've upgraded each player's performance at their respective position.
When the All-Region 4-AAAA Team was announced, no Bulldog defensive players made it on First Team and only one athlete, defensive back Mark Threet, was listed on the Second Team.
However, what they lack in star power, they make up for it in cohesiveness and their only goal is to beat their opponent into submission on every down.
"We got each other's back. We have trust for each other. We're understanding football right now and we've become a better team. We're ready and we want to win," said senior corner back Greg Young.
"The biggest difference from the regular season to now is we have a swagger now and we have fun. In the beginning of the year, we played uptight and didn't want to make mistakes. But we have fun now. We bend, but we don't break. We don't want them to score."
The Bulldogs are strong at every position on defense and while their playoff numbers are impressive, they still feel there's always room for improvement. All week in practice, they've been focusing on breaking down the idiosyncrasies of Marist's option offense.
They've included training camp workouts such as crab walking and one-on-one blocking drills, which will play a critical role in the trenches when the ball is snapped on Friday night.
"We want a chance to go out and show what we can do. We know what Marist can do and we know capable they are. We'd like a chance to stand in the spotlight and compete," said Mt. Zion head coach Jarrett Laws.
Mt. Zion's defense will face its toughest test against the War Eagles, who have cracked 40 points five times this season, including the playoffs.