Defense the name of the game for surging Clements
The best defense in District 20-6A football has a simple mentality. A simple truth.
"Every week, no matter who we play, the goal and mindset is to be the tougher team," senior safety Patrick Smith said. "We started that this offseason, and it has been the forefront of our mindset as a defense."
In getting out to their best start in school history since 2009, the 4-0 Rangers are riding the merits of a stingy defense, one that is experienced, fast, physical, and, most of all, confident.
Clements leads 20-6A by surrendering a stingy 8.3 points per game on 206.5 yards per game. The only non-senior is junior linebacker Ferris Refai. The Rangers' Cover 4 zone defense with a 3-4 base consists largely of battle-tested stalwarts.
Clements allows 170.3 rushing yards per game. And, good luck trying the passing game as a counter. The Rangers have allowed a grand total of 146 passing yards all season.
"We have a lot more playmakers this year," Refai said. "A lot more speed. We're all experienced and very confident in our abilities. We don't fold under pressure."
Coach Bobby Darnell, in his sixth year at the helm of the program, preaches to his defense to "get to the ball with a bad attitude." They've done exactly that, forcing four turnovers and five fumbles.
Four years ago, defensive coordinator Jason Haddock arrived at Clements and introduced an aggressive, fast, and furious scheme to the Rangers, simplistic in nature but hellacious when executed appropriately.
The Rangers are coached to keep everything in front of them. See ball, get ball.Cleme
Clements senior safety Patrick Smith.Justin Hartojo | VYPE Media
Haddock likes to dial up myriad blitzes from all over to keep offenses guessing. He can do that because of versatile personnel. From the linebackers to the secondary, players know the assignments of all positions in the defense.
"It's a very trust-in-your-teammates kind of thing," Refai said. "Everyone has a job; everyone has a role. We all have a chemistry and a belief in each other to where no one tries to do too much, and we have confidence everyone will do their job."
Senior linebacker Matt McGinnis, Refai and Smith are the anchors of the defense. McGinnis averages 9.8 tackles per game with one fumble recovery and one fumble caused. Refai averages 8.8 tackles per game with two sacks. Smith averages 7.8 tackles per game.
Senior transfer linebacker Avery Clark (six tackles per game) has been a big boost. Senior cornerbacks Junior Onipede and Ty Chanthalack have hardly been tested; teams have been wise to throw away from the ballhawks. Senior linebacker Weza Pereira is a prototypical system player, emerging into a solid starter as someone who expertly fulfills his role.
Clements senior linebacker Matt McGinnis.Justin Hartojo | VYPE Media
Coming into the season, Darnell expected the defensive line to be a concern. He had zero returners up front. But he has found a core group of five guys he can rotate in and out and depend on, highlighted by the elusiveness and frenetic energy of junior Jose Aguirre, senior Tosan Okopie and sophomore Fanon Cross getting off blocks and harassing the offensive backfield.
The Rangers have racked up eight sacks and 11 quarterback hurries. Not shabby for a projected position of uncertainty.
"It was so much of an unknown," Darnell said. "To see them doing it and Coach Brown, our D-line coach, doing great jobs with them, it's a testament to how bad those kids want success and how much they bust their tail to get the job done."
All of this is to say that the Rangers are prepared, ready and anticipating for what looms Saturday. Undefeated Clements, the district's No. 1 defense, against 3-1 Ridge Point, the district's No. 1 offense.
"That's something I've been waiting to hear for so long," Darnell said. "It sounds like a great matchup. We haven't had that against this particular team in the five previous seasons, so we're excited. We understand how talented (Panthers senior quarterback) BJ (Bert Emanuel Jr.) is at quarterback as a runner and thrower, (receiver Marvin) Session, the new guy No. 10 (Wilson Batiste), Ezell Jolly, Mason Dossett … these are all guys I've known for a while now. It's a great opportunity for us. I think our defense will rise to the challenge."
It will be Clements' first true test of the season. And the Rangers are hungry for it.
"As a team, we can't wait," Smith said. "We love competition, and we love a challenge, and we are really looking forward to stepping up and having a great game and showing what we know we're capable of. We love playing with a chip on our shoulder."
"We're going to shock the world," Refai added, "and let people know that it's a different era at Clements."