When Alexander opened its season with a 21-13 loss to Athens, it looked like the defense could hold the team together while the offense figured out its identity.
After giving up 21 points in the first half against the Bulldogs, the Spartans adjusted by increasing the pressure on quarterback Joey Moore, forcing sacks and bad passes through more intense blitzes.
That defensive formula almost allowed Alexander to complete the comeback and win the game. It didn’t, but at the very least, it seemed to set a blueprint for the defense to follow as the season progressed.
Unfortunately for the Spartans, the defense was unable to carry the team most games. The offense found its footing, but the defense’s inconsistency caused the team to struggle. Alexander held River Valley scoreless on Sept. 18, but it was also the offense’s best game of the season, scoring 30 points in Alexander’s lone win of the season.
But last Friday, even in Alexander’s 12-6 loss to Meigs, the defense played its best game of the season and showed the same potential it flashed in the second half of the Athens game.
Perhaps more importantly for the Spartans, the defense relied less on its seniors and saw their underclassmen step up.
With the Marauders missing star quarterback Coulter Cleland, Coach Earich Dean knew that it could be a big day for the defense and built his game plan around being aggressive and forcing the new starter, Wyatt Hoover, to make mistakes.
“(Hoover’s) an athlete, a really talented athlete,” Dean said. “But he’s been playing wide receiver all year, so he hasn’t had a lot of reps. So when you make him throw the football, he’s throwing it for the first time in varsity games, it’s a lot different. He hasn’t had a chance to get all the reads in, and he’s going to make those rookie type mistakes and we pounced on that.”
In the first half, those mistakes surfaced in the form of three interceptions. The first one came in the red zone when Hoover under-threw his man and Jagger Cain took advantage of the missed throw.
Meigs’ next offensive drive also ended in a pick as Michael Lash came away with his team-leading third interception of the season. Xander Karagosian came away with the final pick, getting the takeaway with only a minute left in the first half.
Cain, Lash and Karagosian, a sophomore and two juniors respectively, will all be back for next season and have shown that they are core pieces to Alexander’s plans for 2021.
And while the interceptions may have ended in the first half, the turnovers, in general, did not.
During maybe the wildest set of plays in the game, the Spartans forced a fumble and recovered around midfield, only for them to fumble it back to Meigs on their first offensive play. With the Marauders back in control offensively, what do they do on their first play?
Fumble the ball right back to Alexander.
Forcing five turnovers in total, the defense showed an ability to absolutely smother an opponent with aggressive looks and high pressure. With Karagosian forcing the final fumble, it showed that they have the ability to do it next year, as four of the five turnovers were created by an underclassman.
Dean knew that there would be growing pains for Alexander this season, but he’s excited about what his team can do in 2021, especially as the season winds down.
“They’re getting their first varsity experience right now, so next year, they’ll have a whole year of experience under their belt,” Dean said. “It’s going to really help them going into next year.”
The defense may not have carried Alexander this season like it showed the promise to against Athens, but it has shown that there is hope for next season if you’re a Spartan fan.