Just over 12 months ago, a span that feels like a lifetime in this instance, Carroll blitzed its rival Homestead, scoring 41 points and making mincemeat of the Spartans defense.
And the Chargers lost by 29 points.
What a difference a year makes.
After holding Homestead to 10 points in their regular-season meeting in Week 7, Carroll blanked its biggest antagonist for the first time since Halloween 2014 as the Chargers ended the Spartans’ season with a 21-0 home victory.
On a wet, soggy field, Friday felt almost like a program coming full circle. For the last few years, the Chargers could put up points as well as anyone in the SAC, it just had issues stopping anyone. Games were having to be won by the offense putting up 40 and 50 points.
But now, a solid offense is backed up by a defense that may be the team’s best unit. From Ashton Pesetski’s quickness on the edge to Dylan Bennett’s freakish athletic ability in the middle and Alex Smith’s ball-hawking prowess in the secondary, the Chargers are loaded with, in Nelson Knapke’s words, ‘dawgs.’
The final stats told the story.
Homestead was held to 163 total yards on 54 total plays, an average of barely three yards per snap. It was held to 3-of-14 on third down. It picked up 12 first downs for the game while punting seven times.
Carroll’s defense stymied Sparty at every opportunity. Just three Homestead drives gained more than 20 yards. The Chargers played the run game honest, but focused on Nate Anderson in coverage with a defender on him at all times and safety help over the top. Spartans quarterback Peyton Slaven tried to get the ball to his leading receiver, but only hit him three times for 20 yards.
Bennett’s athleticism allows him to command a large amount of space in the middle. Carroll used him sideline to sideline to take away the safety net for Slaven. Many of the junior’s throws were contested and into coverage as blue jerseys seemingly hounded the Spartans’ receivers on every snap.
The dominance began early. Homestead went three and out on its initial drive, and the snap for the punt was high, eventually leading to a late kick that was blocked by Jorge Valdes. A Sebastian Lopez field goal then opened the scoring, capitalizing on the turnover.
By the time Jeff Becker plunged into the end zone from two yards out in the fourth quarter to put Carroll up three scores, the game was very much in hand thanks to the defense.
The defense has gone from a sieve to a strength in a single year. Credit deservedly goes to Coach Doug Dinan and Defensive Coordinator Joe Rudolph, but praise is deflected quickly to the players, who have stepped up their attitude and intensity in practice over the 2021 season. Now, Friday nights are the release of a week full of hard work and preparation, instead of 48 minutes of being exposed by SAC offenses.
The next challenge awaits. Carroll couldn’t get consistent stops against Warsaw in last year’s 42-35 defeat to the Tigers. But as we have seen, this year is different. No longer is the defense an Achilles Heel. Rather, it is leading the way.
Full steam ahead towards a sectional title for the first time in seven years.
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