SUMMERSVILLE – The expectations soared and the excitement was paramount as Wyoming East season approached. But make no mistake, the jury was out on this team, which had four straight losing seasons.
Most thought the Warriors would win the winnable games. But what about a team like Nicholas County.
First-year Wyoming East coach Larry Thompson offered some evidence Friday night that he was more than willing to let it roll with these guys.
Up 22-18. About 10 minutes left. Fourth-and-7 just across midfield.
Not Thompson. He went for it. He didn’t get it. But he didn’t care.
He was like the proverbial old riverboat gambler. Except not old. The guy is barely 30. Some of us have shoes 30 years old. That’s another story.
He certainly fit the analogy of that old riverboat gambler, taking big chance going for it on in that situation.
Most coaches wouldn’t even have thought about it and called for the punt team.
Most probably thought Thompson was guilty of being crazy.
It was a tip of the hat to his defense, an “OK fellows, this one is on you” to the defense.
A nod of confidence to roughly the same team that gave up 32 points per game last season? The same team that had just nine sacks all of last season?
And Thompson was saying, in essence, go win me a football game.
And they did, repaying that confidence by time and time again by shutting out the Grizzlies in the second half.
Let’s address the elephant in the room. The Grizzlies were without their quarterback Timmy Baker and top running back Justin Hill for a bulk of the game. Baker as around long enough to throw a touchdown pass to Luke LeRose.
And Thompson admitted that losing Baker changed what he did on defense.
“We stopped playing pass and the entire defense started playing run,” Thompson said. “We have some very athletic kids who can cover 1-on-1 in space and I knew we had to stay seven or eight in the box.”
It worked. Save a 17-run by Luke LeRose, who was forced into action at quarterback in the fourth and thus took away the Grizzlies top threat on the outside – he was s second-team all-state receiver last fall – the Grizzlies did not score in the second half..
Thompson said many times in fall camp he liked his team’s athletic ability. He said he just wanted to make his defense a little meaner.
By Friday that meanness had come and Thompson saw it.
“I did,” Thompson said. “And the discipline was stellar. Those kids didn’t do anything chippy after the play, they didn’t say anything, they spoke with their pads from whistle to whistle.”
And the source of that newfound meanness?
“I think they are just tired of being the underdog,” Thompson said.
Consider the big plays defensively that led to the win.
On one occasion linebacker Caleb Bower was locked in single coverage against LeRose (before he switched to QB the Grizzlies used Jordan McKinney at quarterback). LeRose got behind him but with the ball in the air Bower got to LeRose and battled the ball away.
On a key third down Brandon Simpson rushed off the edge on a corner blitz and sacked McKinney for a big 7-yard loss. Both those were in the third.
Time after time after time.
“They never saw it coming,” Simpson said. “They had trips to my side. They rotated them over so I knew what they were doing and I just blitzed.”
Sounds like a simple statement of a play but in the larger scheme of things it speaks to being prepared.
After continually holding the Grizzlies at bay in the second half, Thompson finally did punt. Wouldn’t you know it. Caden Lookabill got off a 57-yarder pinnng the Grizzlies inside the five.
The Grizzlies would get another real shot but a pass to the end zone that could have won it was well defended by East’s Lookabill, who knocked the ball away from the intended receiver..
Lookabill who played one heck of a game given the punt and the pass deflection.
“After we got the lead we knew we had to hold them off, get grittier, hard nosed,” Lookabill said. “It kind of shocked us when they put (LeRose at QB). He can throw the ball. We just had to make some adjustments and stop the pas late.”
“Coach told us it was going to be be a defensive game the whole time,” Simpson said.
And it was.
There were many standouts. Clay Lester had 15 tackles, three tackles for a loss, two sacks. Tanner Lester had eight tackles, three tackles for a loss, two sacks. McQuade Canada had seven tackles. Alex Hall six. On and on and on.
Remember those nine sacks I mentioned that Wyoming East had all of last year. They had that many on Friday night.
On a night that many believe signaled the reemergence of Wyoming East to the Class AA football landscape, the defense did not rest. Until the final horn sounded.