Snider's defense has faced four weeks of quarterback quizzes. It's time for the test.
Homestead's Jiya Wright can do it all: Run, pass, expose weaknesses in a defense and sound great on the post-game sound bites. He's a big reason the Class 6A No. 10 Spartans have matched No. 3 Snider's 4-0 start in Summit Athletic Conference high school football.
“He has the ability to make plays at any time,” Snider coach Kurt Tippmann said. “That's what's scary about him.”
The Snider vs. Homestead game, which might ultimately decide the SAC title, will be played at 5 p.m. Saturday in Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. These teams can't meet in a state championship, since they're in the same Class 6A sectional, so this is a rare chance to compete in the best venue in the state.
Wright and his cadre of receivers, including Trevin Taylor, Grant Raber, Conrad Keszei and Brayden Layton, will pose a supreme challenge to every level of the Snider defense.
Wright has completed 66 of 99 passes (64.7 percent) for 1,033 yards and 16 touchdowns with three interceptions in four games. He averages 90.5 yards per game rushing, with five touchdowns.
So the question becomes what Snider can do to limit Wright's effectiveness.
It'll require great performances from all areas of the defense.
Start up front with the defensive line. Snider has some physically strong players up front, including 6-foot-2, 295-pound Zach McDowell, 5-foot-9, 220-pound Kerry Perry and 6-foot-3, 308-pound Lawrence Johnson.
They'll need to beat their offensive line counterparts and find their way into the Homestead backfield.
“Our defensive line is very strong,” Perry said. “I think if we do our jobs first, it'll be a domino effect on the defense. I think we can get pressure on him, from nose to tackles to ends.”
Wright's ability to scramble is the wild card in any attempts to bring pressure, of course.
“He's versatile,” McDowell said. “He can run, he can pass, he can get out on broken plays and that's what makes him dangerous.”
Tippmann's defensive players must be confident that every player on defense will do his job. The Panthers have to read their specific keys and fit in the proper gaps, especially to contain the running game. Wright has been the Spartans' main rushing threat, but there's always the chance some new wrinkles in the Spartans run game could come this week.
Homestead coach Chad Zolman said he believes his team will have to show some running effectiveness to make Wright's passing game flourish. He labeled Snider's front line “explosive” and their linebackers corps “one of the best in the area.”
“We do need to run the ball a little bit and that's something we have to continue to develop and get better at,” Zolman said. “If you become one-dimensional against anybody, they'll figure out a way to slow that down.”
Tippmann says Wright's running ability is plenty to deal with, and a great complement to his passing skills.
“Whether with him running or some of the options things they do, they really incorporate the play-action pass very nicely with the run they have,” Tippmann said. “If your eyes are in the wrong place, you're going to be wrong all night long. It's going to require eye discipline from our third-level guys and linebackers. And that's hard to do when guys are coming at you to block and you have to be in position. Eye discipline is going to be the whole key.”
Snider has held its first four opponents to an average of 131 yards per game, a completion percentage of 43.3 percent and has recorded 15 sacks and 10 interceptions. They haven't played a team as talented as Homestead.
Wright has been able to distribute the football through enough receivers that it's difficult for opponents to single out one receiver to slow.
Taylor was called for a flagrant hit and ejected from Homestead's game against Bishop Dwenger last week, but Zolman said officials agreed after a video review that it wasn't a hit worthy of that type of penalty. Taylor is expected to play Saturday without further penalty.
“They have some speedy receivers and they have some big receivers and that's a tough matchup,” Tippmann said. “Other guys are good possession receivers.”
Tippmann points to the execution of the Homestead passing game as further enhancing Wright's natural skills as a passer.
“They're not necessarily going to outrun you, but they're good at running routes and coach (Bill) Skelton, their offensive coordinator, does a great job of scheming things. It's their execution that you're beating, not their athleticism and that makes it a tough deal. …They're not going to out-athlete you, but they'll try to out-execute you and if they're better at that than us, they're going to be successful.”
Snider senior cornerback Tavares Brown said the secondary is looking forward to the challenge of defending Homestead's receivers and possibly finding a way to make a game-turning play.
“We're playmakers,” Brown said. “We like when the ball's out there. Anything can happen and we like to make things happen. It's going to be hard on the secondary. They can run, but it's mostly passing. They're going to try to work us and challenge us and bring it to us.”
No team has slowed Wright yet, but no team has brought a more talented defense to the field than Snider.
“It's going to be real fun,” Brown said. “It's like the state feeling, going to Lucas Oil and playing in big game.”
Midway through the regular season, there will be no better prep game in the state.
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.