Defense a big key for Stafford

STAFFORD — The Stafford High School football team has proved over and over again it can move the football, but you don’t make it to the Group AAA football semifinals on offense alone.

You must defend to win and the Indians have played their best defense of the year since the regular season ended.

In two playoff games thus far, led by defensive-signal caller Nick Colon, the Indians have allowed just two touchdowns and held both Halifax County and Culpeper, traditionally powerful running teams, to 80 yards or less on the ground.

Against Halifax, Stafford (10-2) held school rushing-record holder Alonzo Coleman to 35 yards and the team to 76 yards on the ground.

Against Culpeper, Stafford held the ground attack to 80 yards, so the close-knit group is quietly doing its job.

“It is pretty much about nobody expects us to be a good defensive team,” Colon said. “Because our offense is so good nobody talks about the defense and really nobody thinks much about it.

“But once we hit the field we are a very intense group. Every yard we give up is too much. Our feeling as a group is if they don’t score we win. If the ball is not going backward it is not good enough for us.”

Stafford’s opponent on Sunday is Central Region champion Hopewell (9-2), a squad that knows a little bit about offense. Coached by Marshall Parker since 1983, the Blue Devils have made the region title game three of the past four years and their offense has been the key ingredient.

Hopewell’s leading rusher Jerrett Brown (135 carries for 821 yards, 9 TDs) had 106 yards on 21 carries last week against Patrick Henry. Both are well above his average.

Therefore, the Indians will have to utilize coach Roger Pierce’s group-tackling gameplan.

“Coach Pierce has a philosophy that we are like a bunch of bees. One sting is not going to hurt so we have to get as many stings on the ballcarrier as we can,” Colon said. “We are not blessed with a lot of size, and that is probably the reason people take us for granted. I just remember what a coach in middle school once told me, ‘it is not the size of the dog in the fight, it is the size of the fight in the dog.’ And that saying just keeps coming back to me about this team.”

One area of concern for the Indians is the amount of passing yards the Indians allowed against Culpeper (221) since Sunday’s foe Hopewell relies heavily on the pass.

Blue Devils quarterback Lee Bujakowski has thrown for 1,977 yards (122 for 236) this season, including 19 touchdowns to a variety of receivers for an average of 180 yards per game.

David Hearington had been his primary target for most of the season, racking up 945 yards on 51 catches. But in the Central Region final, Patrick Henry held him to one catch for minus 4 yards.

“That doesn’t really concern me because our defensive backs [Thomas McClelland, Kevin Sullivan and Robert Thompson] work really hard. They can stop the majority of big plays but up front we have got to apply a lot more pressure. When we looked at the Culpeper film, other than a few plays, they had all day to throw. So we have got to work harder in practice this week to better ourselves. That way we can take the pressure off those guys by making plays up front.”

According to Thomas McClelland, who rushed for 215 yards and recovered three fumbles, the Indians will make the proper adjustments.

“It bothers me a little but I don’t think it is a great concern,” McClelland said. “I think our team will be able to adjust to the pass. Against Culpeper, they were hitting the short outs to the sideline but we didn’t give away many deep balls. It wasn’t until the end that they were able to score. So even though they had some success we were quick to get to the ball. This defense is not just about one person. The whole team gets the ball once the initial stop is made.”

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