Photo by Derrick Mahone
Lovejoy senior defensive backs Jermaine Hough (left) and Rico McWilliams have a combined 33 pass breakups and four interceptions this season heading into Friday's Class AAAA quarterfinals game against Ware County.
They know each other well. They have each other’s backs.
If you want to know why Lovejoy’s defense is so effective, that’s it in a nutshell. What the defensive backs contribute has been key to the Wildcats advancing further than they ever have before.
The sixth-ranked Wildcats will play in their first quarterfinal playoff game ever Friday, when they play host to No. 9 Ware County. The Wildcats have seven shutouts in 12 games, and the defensive backs have been a big part of that.
They couldn’t do it without the pressure that the linemen up front are providing, but guys like Jermaine Hough, Dushonta Broughton and Rico McWilliams are the ones who pick up the pieces. When the linemen are forcing the quarterback to make up his mind — or eat the ball, his choice — the Lovejoy defensive backs have the freedom to dare opposing receivers to beat them.
“The quarterback has about 1.8 seconds to get rid of the ball,” Broughton said.
Which allows him to do . . . what, exactly?
“Really, nothing,” Broughton said.
Talent certainly doesn’t hurt. McWilliams has committed to South Carolina. Hough and Broughton are headed to Jacksonville State. The fourth member of the secondary — El-Malik Roberson — is just a junior.
“We work hard on our pressure defense,” said Hough, who had two interceptions last week in a 15-10, second-round victory over Kell. “A lot of teams haven’t seen pressure defense.”
Pressure defense allows the defensive backs to play tighter on the receivers than other teams. Many teams won’t do that, for fear of allowing the big play. But the Wildcats don't believe they're going to give up the big play. They’ve only allowed one passing touchdown all season, last week, when Hough had to sit out for three plays with a twisted ankle.
“You've got to be cocky out there on the field,” Hough said. “You’ve got to believe that nobody is going to catch on me.”
They believe that. But they have secondary confidence as well -- meaning if somebody looks like they're going to get beat on a play, another defensive back fills in to cover his rear quarters.
“We’re all fast and we have football smarts,” Broughton said. “Everyone is on the same page. Everyone knows each other.”
Knowing what your fellow defensive back is going to do in a given situation gives them freedom to take chances, too.
“Me and Jermaine have been playing together since we were 5,” Broughton said.
Ware County also has some players who have been been together for a while. But do they know each other well enough to overpower the Wildcats? That’s a question that only can be answered Friday in Twelve Oaks Stadium. The right answer would put the Wildcats only two wins away from a state championship.