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Dutchtown puts defense first

By Brian Paglia

bpaglia@news-daily.com

By now, Dutchtown is probably known as the playoff team that has advanced to the Class AAAA quarterfinals without scoring a touchdown. The Bulldogs have scored 18 points in their two wins, all coming on field-goals by senior kicker Ryan Kay.

It is the most glaring statistic of Dutchtown's surprising playoff run, but one that provides the most insight into the Bulldogs' success.

"Think about if we had (linebackers) Aaron Johnson or Rodney Brown, some of those guys on offense, how productive we might be," Dutchtown coach Jason Galt said. "But then we'd be giving a lot of points up. So it's kind of the old adage -- defense wins championships."

As Dutchtown (11-1) goes into its game against the second highest-scoring offense left in Class AAAA in No. 6-ranked Chattahoochee (12-0), the Bulldogs' put their hopes in a defense that has transformed into one of the state's best.

Among Class AAAA playoff teams, none have allowed fewer points per game this season than the Bulldogs. Dutchtown has allowed just 6.2 points per game, which includes back-to-back shutouts in the playoffs against Thomas County Central (15-0) and Glynn Academy (3-0). Only Peach County, the defending Class AAA champion, has matched that feat.

That transformation has been by design. Galt said that when players come into the program, they go through a very intentional filtering process. The best players are put on defense, the rest on offense and few play both.

"We put our best players on defense, no question," Dutchtown defensive coordinator Terry Herrod said. "There are kids that we have that play defense for us that could play offense and be super on offense. Our philosophy is put our best players on defense and then run the ball, be sound in the special teams and we feel like that's a formula for success long-term."

Galt said he had the long-term in mind when he changed the Bulldogs from a 50 defense to the 4-3 defense they use now after his first season at Dutchtown. All along his journey as an assistant coach, Galt worked on teams that ran a 50 defense. It was his comfort zone.

But Galt said he found the 50 defense too rigid when adjustments were necessary. The 4-3 defense allowed Dutchtown to still have a seven-man front, which he liked, with two safeties, but have the ability to adjust to different offenses from week to week.

While the results have been impressive, Dutchtown's defense possesses fewer college prospects than one might expect from one of the state's best units. Junior defensive tackle Darian Smalls and sophomore Donovahn Jones have Football Bowl Subdivision (formerly Division I) talent, but the Bulldogs defense is more a collection of savvy veterans that Galt describes as strong, disciplined and fast.

"Our defense is based off of speed," Galt said. "We don't have a whole lot of size, but we've got a lot of quick guys that can move around and give offenses some pressure."

That speed is put to use often. When Galt made the transition to the 4-3 defense, he also made a pivotal decision to blitz, and blitz often.

"The more we talked the more we philosophically came up with the plan ... that the average high school quarterback and offensive line can't handle the blitz," Galt said. "So we're just going to blitz, and that's what we're going to hang our hat on. Not every once in a while. We're going to do it all the time."

Galt understood that with blitzing came risks. Most notably, the Bulldogs can give up big plays. Glynn Academy had five plays of 15 yards or more and 185 total yards of offense. But with nine returning starters and eight seniors, Dutchtown doesn't waver when it gives up big plays. Rather, it relishes in responding.

When Glynn Academy completed a 30-yard pass on its first play of the game, Dutchtown blitzed on the very next play and tackled Red Terrors running back Chris Wood for a 4-yard loss. When Glynn Academy converted on fourth-and-one with a 19-yard run in the second quarter, Jones came through on a blitz and sacked Glynn Academy quarterback Arshon Spaulding for a 7-yard loss.

"We're the type of people where you may punch us, we're going to punch right back," Herrod said. "We really believe in the philosophy that in life you're going to get knocked down. You've got to get back up. That's what we do. Usually when we give up a big play, the very next play we're even more aggressive than the one before."

Herrod concedes that Chattahoochee offers Dutchtown's defense perhaps its stiffest test this season. The Cougars' spread offense averages 43 points per game and is led by senior quarterback Tim Byerly, who has thrown for over 2,100 yards and 27 touchdowns and rushed for over 1,200 yards and 19 touchdowns. Neither has Dutchtown seen a team as big as Chattahoochee is on the offensive line, which is led by seniors Matt Kiefer (6-foot-4, 280) and Barron Dixon (6-foot-4, 260).

As impressive as Dutchtown as been on defense, Chattahoochee has been just as impressive on offense.

"I'm very impressed with what they do," Herrod said. "They have a very good quarterback, have good receivers, have a big offensive line. They're very well-coached. They're a high-scoring offense. We don't give up a lot of points. It should be a very fun game.

"I like our scheme and our skill-set and our players. I think we're going to be very competitive and it's going to be a fun night."