Troup’s young defense standing tall
LAGRANGE – At the close of a practice session last week on the brink of the region-championship showdown against Cartersville, Troup head coach Tanner Glisson asked for a show of hands.
The question was, among the defensive starters, who is a sophomore?
A flurry of hands went in the air, and that didn’t even include the freshmen who are getting significant playing time on defense as well.
Despite that inexperience, the defense has excelled this season under the direction of defensive coordinator Micah Alba, and the play on that side of the ball is a key reason Troup (8-2) is hosting a first-round playoff game against West Hall on Thursday.
Among those sophomores are Kevin Martin, Joko Willis, Nick Ligon, King Mwikuta, Nick Ligon and Kaliff Thornton who are among the team leaders in tackles.
Troup’s defense, almost without exception, has been at its best late in games when the outcome was on the line.
The most recent example of that came in a 23-20 victory over Cedartown when Troup didn’t allow a point in the second half.
In Troup’s biggest win of the season, Sandy Creek was held scoreless in the second half until it broke through for a late touchdown, but it lost 28-20.
It was a similar scenario in wins over Bowdon, Lamar County and Chapel Hill.
In a 28-27 win over Bowdon, Troup’s defense made some huge stands in the fourth quarter.
Troup trailed 27-14 with less than nine minutes to play, and Bowdon’s offense had looked unstoppable.
Bowdon’s final two possessions both ended with failed fourth-down plays, though, as Troup’s youthful defense came through when it had to.
“They had us on our heels,” Glisson said after that game. “And we didn’t really have an answer, and we were trying to fix some things. When you have a young defense, it’s hard to fix things in the course of a game. So that was tough. But we knew we’d keep battling. That’s what we told them, just keep battling, and let us fix it. Make the small adjustments we’re asking you to make, and they did. And they showed up, and it’s a great win.”
With Troup trailing by six, Bowdon was stuffed on a fourth-and-one play on fourth down.
The Tigers then drove down for the winning touchdown.
Before that fourth-down stop, sophomore linebacker King Mwikuta said “when we got together in the huddle, coach G said calm down. He knew we could do it.”
Glisson was right.
“We just had to go out there and execute,” Mwikuta added. “Plays like that, that’s when you bow your back in a game. That’s when you go your hardest in a game. When you do that, and believe, the sky’s the limit.”
In the next game against Chapel Hill, Troup’s defense once again rose to the occasion late.
On its final three possessions of the game, Chapel Hill was stopped on fourth down.
On one of those drives Mwikuta and Joko Willis had sacks, and Kevin Martin scored a defensive touchdown in that game.
Martin ripped the ball away from the quarterback at the 1-yard line, and he stepped into the end zone for the touchdown, giving Troup a 35-14 lead with eight seconds left in the third quarter.
“I was just trying to get him down,” Martin said. “He wouldn’t go down, so I just stripped him.”
In a 23-20 win over Cedartown that basically wrapped up a top two spot in the region for Troup, the defense didn’t allow a point in the final two quarters.
In a game where the offense struggled, it was the defense that saved the day.
It was a 20-13 Cedartown lead at the half, and senior defensive back Ken Truitt said the objective in the second half was to come out in the second half and allow nothing.
“That was the mindset,” Truitt said. “We’re not going to give up another point.”
Glisson said in the Cedartown game, and throughout the season, the halftime adjustments have been critical.
“I’m very proud of our defensive staff,” Glisson said following the Cedartown game. “They made great adjustments in the second half. They shut them out in the second half, and that was important.”
Troup recovered a handful of fumbles against Cedartown, and Martin said that’s a reflection of the team’s gang-tackling mindset.
“Everybody is trying to get to the ball,” Martin said. “Every helmet is trying to get to the ball. When the ball comes out, everybody is close to it. We just fall on it.”
While some of Troup’s more inexperienced players are still learning the fine points of the game, senior defensive lineman Jarred Lane said effort is never a problem.
“It’s just a matter of us running to the ball,” Lane said. “We’ve run to the ball this year. We run like our hair’s on fire most of the time. Nobody’s lackadaisical. We’ve just been working.”
Troup’s linebackers have been piling up the tackle totals.
Kevin Martin, one of the sophomores, has been an impact player since Day 1, and he has 83 total tackles with 48 solo stops, and he leads the team with eight tackles for loss.
Fellow sophomore Joko Willis has 57 tackles with four tackles for loss and two sacks, and he also has a forced fumble and an interception.
Senior Jarred Lane has 65 tackles, sophomore King Mwikuta has 37 tackles and a team-leading six sacks, and he also had a forced fumble, two fumble recoveries, and an interception.
Another sophomore, linebacker Nick Ligon, has 41 tackles and three interceptions, and Detrick Tucker has 44 tackles.
Among the defensive backs, junior MaCenta Stafford leads the way with 62 tackles, but he has unfortunately been lost for the season with an injury.
Chanse Hill has 28 tackles, Ken Truitt has 26 tackles, and freshman Kobe Hudson has 19 tackles, three forced fumbles, and he returned an interception for a touchdown against Sandy Creek.
One of the few seniors in the lineup, defensive back Jack Schweizer, has 17 tackles.
Among the defensive linemen, senior Eric Williams leads the way with 29 tackles, and sophomore Kaliff Thornton has 23 tackles, including three tackles for loss.
Tionne Battle, a junior, has 15 tackles, Jay Brodie has 12 tackles, and sophomore, Jay Messer has contributed 10 tackles.
Junior Quenton Kersey has 11 tackles and has been a force on the defensive line, but he’s out the rest of the season with an injury.
OF NOTE: For a look at Troup’s offense, see Thursday’s sports section.
Reach Kevin Eckleberry at (706) 884-7311 or on Twitter @lagrangesports