Snider’s defense must regain bearings for postseason run
When a high school football team succeeds at the yearly rate of the Snider Panthers, it’s going to attract some nitpickers.
So let’s nitpick.
The unbeaten, Class 6A No. 2 Panthers are giving up way too many points lately if they’re planning to make a long postseason run.
Consider this nitpicking to be constructive criticism, the kind of criticism that can lead to improvement and a passion to get those problems fixed. Snider coach Kurt Tippmann says he is “absolutely” concerned, but also optimistic that solutions are well within the Panthers’ reach.
Consecutive weeks of surrendering 30-plus points to Northrop (a 49-35 win) and Bishop Dwenger (a 34-31 win) raises the question of whether Snider is where it needs to be as it enters the regular-season finale on Friday at Bishop Luers.
“Sometimes you don’t learn what you’re deficiencies are until somebody exposes them,” Tippmann said.
In the last two Snider wins, Northrop posted 364 yards of offense (205 rushing) and Dwenger 355 yards (171 rushing). Those numbers reflected games that were not firmly in Snider’s possession until the end.
The Panthers fell behind Dwenger 21-0 before charging back and prevailing.
“I believe every great team has to go through some challenges and some tough things, because you’re going to experience those tough things again against good teams (in the playoffs),” Tippmann said. “How you react to those are a large part of whether your season continues or you turn your stuff in.”
Nine of 11 Snider defensive starters are seniors, led by linebacker and leading tackler Brandon Kocks. Kocks has a team-high 77 tackles (28 more than the second-highest) and 40 solo (18 more than the second-highest). He has three sacks, four tackles for loss and a fumble recovery.
He also left the Dwenger game pleased with a win but frustrated by the performance.
“For the past few weeks, we haven’t been focusing on our gaps and executing our responsibilities,” Kocks said. “But we’re working on that, and we’re going to get it fixed.”
Did Northrop and Dwenger present different looks with their offensive schemes and try different types of plays that Snider hadn’t dealt with through the first six games?
“We just weren’t gap sound,” Kocks said. “It was more on us, I would say.”
Tippmann won’t use injuries as an excuse, but the team has been without senior defensive back Darius Morgan since the Sept. 16 win over Homestead and senior linebacker Austin France missed the Dwenger game. Senior lineman Zach McDowell will miss this week with an injury.
“We’ve got guys banged up, but everybody does,” Tippmann said.
If the Panthers are going to get back on track, the leadership of the seniors, and Kocks in particular, will be necessary.
Kocks said he believes the Panthers have the team to make a deep postseason run, providing they play their best.
Tippmann praised Kocks’ play and leadership as a second-year starter and one of the keys to the defense when it is playing well.
“He’s very athletic, and he’s crafty, so he’s able to work his way around a lot of blocks, and he’s quick enough to get to the point of attack,” Tippmann said. “No. 2, he’s doing a good job of reading and studying the offense we’re playing against, and he puts himself in good position.”
That studying is another area where Snider can find the necessary improvements to get back on track defensively. The Panthers have held four opponents to 7 or fewer points, but three of those games were at the start of the season.
“Every offense has its nuances and its different ways of doing things,” Tippmann said. “So, through the course of the week, you have to study what this key tells you where you should go. The better you get at that, the faster you play, and you’re in position to make plays instead of looking in the backfield and getting fooled by a lot of deception and things that go on.”
Snider will have this week and next to right its defensive ship. The Panthers already clinched the Summit Athletic Conference title with a one-game lead and the tie-breaker over Homestead. Class 6A teams will have an open date when the rest of sectional play opens Oct. 20.
Snider’s first sectional game is a rematch with No. 9 Homestead. Other potential opponents in the postseason include No. 7 Lafayette Jefferson and No. 11 Carmel at the regional level and No. 5 Penn and No. 6 Valparaiso at the semistate level. The assumption is that any run to the state title game would finish with a showdown against No. 1 Ben Davis.
But first Snider has to fix the cracks in its defense that emerged the last two weeks.
“I remember a regular-season game in Week 4 a couple years ago, we were playing Penn and just getting smoked,” Tippmann said. “They exposed every weakness we had, which was great. We were able to get better at every one of those things because we could see it.”
Bishop Luers brings a strong running game with Jordan Presley and Ty Hambright, as well as other playmakers on the perimeter that “can score anytime they touch the ball,” Tippmann said.
Tippmann took a ton of positives from the comeback win over Dwenger and one, nitpicking negative. His defense needs to tighten down. If it does, Snider’s Class 6A dreams will be realistic again.
This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Reggie Hayes at firstname.lastname@example.org.