High School Sports

Defense — not offense — will decide St. Stanislaus-East Central slugfest

East Central and No. 2 St. Stanislaus’ clash in Bay St. Louis on Friday will come down to ... defense?

It probably sounds funny considering one of the nation's top passers is squaring off against the country's leading rusher, but Friday night's 8-4A showdown could come down to the best defensive effort. Not necessarily which team can pitch a shutout, but which group can bow up and make a stand or force a turnover when the game is on the line.

That’s how last year’s game in Hurley was decided.

The Hornets did a good job of limiting St. Stanislaus’ first-half possessions and were deadlocked with the Rockachaws 14-14 going into the half. A scoop-and-score in the third and another turnover late, however, sealed St. Stanislaus’ 49-35 victory.

“That turnovers swung that game. We felt like we had a chance to be successful if we didn't turn the ball over. It's going to be the same way this year,” ECHS coach Seth Smith said Wednesday. “Only way you can beat a team like that is not give them extra possessions.

“You have to limit turnovers. If you dig a hole against a team like them you’ll get buried. Every drive you have is so crucial.”

East Central (5-3, 2-0) had the turnover yips early on this season, but Smith said they have settled down with the start of region play.

“We have started to build some momentum,” Smith said.

The Hornets have recovered 11 fumbles and racked up eight interceptions this season, but getting the Rockachaws to turn the ball over won’t be easy. SSC has a plus-14 turnover ratio and quarterback Myles Brennan has yet to throw an interception this season.

SSC defense

The Rockachaws’ offense has garnered plenty of attention this season, and rightfully so, but their defense has been just as impressive.

SSC (6-1, 2-0) enters the game having forced 11 interceptions — including four from Brendan Logan, who set a school record last week with two pick-sixes against Bay — and recovered six fumbles. Their defense also leads 8-4A — and is ninth in Class 4A — in points allowed with just 138.

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“It’s going to come down to defense. Can our defense get them to three-and-out and create turnovers, shed blocks and make tackles?” SSC coach Bill Conides said. “Our defense the last few weeks has been lights out. Hopefully that continues.”

Offensive showdown

Smith called SSC an “offensive juggernaut” and he’s right, but it’s the Hornets who lead Class 4A with 338 points scored; SSC isn’t far behind with 265 points.

Brennan, a LSU commit, has completed 151 of 224 passes for 2,158 yards and 26 touchdowns. He enters the game tied with former Rockachaw Dylan Favre for the state’s career touchdown mark at 144.

Part of what has made Brennan so dangerous are the weapons at his disposal. Five different receivers have at least 10 receptions, which puts strain on opposing defenses.

“You're talking about one of the best QBs in America, with four good receivers, a good tailback and a good line,” Smith said. “We're going to give maximum effort for four quarters.”

As for East Central, Tony Brown carries the load. He’s still the nation’s rushing leader with 2,255 yards and has also found pay dirt 24 times.

Conides said they’re more than just Brown, however, with a deep group of running backs and strong offensive line.

Last year, the Hornets gave lead back A.J. Davis the ball a whopping 51 times.

Brown’s high this year is 41 carries, but the mentality is much the same for Smith’s squad.

“There’s no situation where they’re not willing to run the ball,” Conides said. “Also, they’re not just 3 yards and a cloud of dust. They can be just as explosive in the run game as we are passing.”

Brown’s almost averaging a first down per carry at 9.3 yards and has yet to be held under 144 yards and two touchdowns.

Patrick Ochs: 228-896-2321, @PatrickOchs

Game Plan

Who: East Central at No. 2 St. Stanislaus

When: 7 p.m. Friday

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