Rebels’ defense rises to the challenge

COLUMBIA — Only one team all season held Bethesda Academy under 30 points, so it was almost a forgone conclusion that if Thomas Heyward Academy was going to win the rematch with the Blazers and claim a second straight state title, it would have to win a shootout.

Not so fast.

The Rebels were that one team who managed to slow down the Blazers during the regular season, and they went a step farther Saturday at Benedict College’s Charles W. Johnson Stadium, holding Bethesda’s high-powered offense to 91 total yards in a dominant 30-6 victory in the SCISA 1A title game.

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“The defense was the player of the game,” Thomas Heyward coach Nic Shuford said. “They played their behinds off today. Our guys were swarming to the ball and were suffocating on defense. To keep that team under 100 total yards was insane.” 

Insane might be an understatement. 

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The Blazers averaged more than half as many points (48.9) entering the title game as they had total yards (91) on Saturday, as THA’s defense shut down 2,000-yard rusher Jaden Wright all afternoon and frustrated an offense that had put up at least 40 points in all but two of its contests this season. Wright rushed for 253 yards and three touchdowns in the first meeting, but he was limited to 27 yards on the ground in the rematch.

“We knew we had to key on 6 (Wright), and I think we did a great job,” senior lineman Dalton Hayes said. “They tried to go to their other playmakers, but once 6 was kind of shut down, they just kind of started slowing down and petering out.” 

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Bethesda didn’t manage to put together a sustained drive all day, as it’s only touchdown came after the Rebels fumbled deep in their own territory in the second quarter. THA forced four turnovers — including interceptions from Zack Black, Josh Gobel, and Sonny Halker and a fumble recovery from Hayes that set up the first score of the game.

“We practiced really nothing but defense all week just to stop Jaden,” Black said. “We know he’s a good runner, and we know they’ve got a good quarterback and a good couple of receivers, so we knew we had to focus on defense the most.” 

The Rebels knew they were poised for a redeeming performance, but even they didn’t expect the dominant performance they turned in.

“I don’t think we expected to hold them to six,” Hayes said with a smile. “But I’ll take it.” 

— Justin Jarrett, LowcoSports.com

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