Huskies' defense rises to challenge - East Valley Tribune: VarsityXtra

Huskies' defense rises to challenge

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Posted: Tuesday, December 9, 2008 5:26 pm | Updated: 11:17 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

Chandler Hamilton's attempt to return to the 5A Division I state football title game this season began with the mantra its seasoned defense would shoulder the load. That unit responded in early games while the offense, with a slew of new personnel, matured."> VIDEO: Hamilton championship game preview

Chandler Hamilton's attempt to return to the 5A Division I state football title game this season began with the mantra its seasoned defense would shoulder the load. That unit responded in early games while the offense, with a slew of new personnel, matured.

A touch of concern, however, hovered over the defense after its regular-season finale when Chandler piled up 480 yards and 26 points in Hamilton's 41-26 win. That's a rare night to unleash on Hamilton and the players heard about it from coach Steve Belles.

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"Coach challenged us after that game," linebacker Justin Rosales, who is third on the team in tackles, said. "He told us we had to play better with the playoffs coming up and we had to be very focused. We've had games when we're rolling on all wheels, when everyone does their job and we've been great when that happens. That's where our focus is now."

Hamilton returned eight defensive starters from 2007. With three tough games opening the season (Miami Booker T. Washington, Phoenix Brophy and Peoria Centennial) the Huskies won two of three. They gave up 51 points and that included a shutout of Brophy among the trio, a little higher number than Hamilton is accustomed to giving up. Still Belles has been impressed with the unit and its progression after the treacherous early stretch.

"I think our defense has played better than last year, something you might expect with as many guys back as we had," Belles said. "For the most part they've been really good at assignment football and that's the reason I think that. A lot of credit goes to coach (Lane) Reynolds. It's his defense. He has total reign. ... The defensive guys (coaches) were still there working when the offense left Sunday afternoon. They are tireless workers."

After the first three games the schedule softened somewhat and the defense was solid until the season finale against Chandler. The hallmark of this unit is in the most important games save one, it has responded. If not from start to finish during a game, then when a play needed to be made.

For example, in the first meeting with Brophy on Sept. 5, the Huskies threw a shutout, recorded eight sacks and forced three turnovers in a 10-0 win.

Even though Chandler put up more yardage than any team the Huskies faced this year, linebacker Anthony Jones' 82-yard interception return in the final minutes thwarted a potential game-tying drive and sealed the victory and the Fiesta Region title.

In the rematch with Chandler in the quarterfinals last month, the unit that gave up huge yardage and points the first time, allowed 197 yards and no points.

On the first possession of last Friday's semifinal against Mesa Red Mountain, the upstart Mountain Lions had marched to the Hamilton 37. The Huskies forced a fumble that was recovered by Rosales, and Hamilton took command of the game from there. The turnover set up the offense and killed Red Mountain's opportunity to strike first and grab momentum.

"We had some adversity the first couple games, but the coaching staff helped us overcome it," said defensive end Ruben Rubio, the team sacks leader with 12. "We have players who know how to make big plays. That's something we've been comfortable with all year because we've played together for awhile."

Belles' emphasis to the defense on focus in the postseason has been for good reason. Last year every playoff game was a battle, with the Huskies just slipping by inferior opponents the first two weeks. When Brophy appeared in the semis, mistakes were too numerous and the Broncos prevailed.

In three playoff games in e_SSRq07 Hamilton allowed 52 points.

In the first three games this year 28, and only six of those through nearly 11 quarters of play.

"I'm very proud of our defense," Belles said. "The way they've responded the last three games is the way you need to play to win a state championship. We need one more game out of them because with Brophy's defense, points may be hard to come by."

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[Stats Courtesy of MaxPreps]