Heading into its second-round Class 5A playoff game at Live Oak on Friday, the John Ehret Patriots have averaged 42.6 points in their past five games.
However, the Patriots defense has been all the rage. Last week in the first round against East Ascension — a 39-7 win — the defense kicked things up a notch with its most physical play this season. East Ascension coach Paul Bourgeois said it demoralized his team.
Even Ehret coach Corey Lambert was impressed.
“I was like ‘Wow,’ ” Lambert said. “Some of the plays they made were really impressive. I think they’ve come into their own. They are tasting that success, and they want more.”
Since losing 21-15 to Landry-Walker on Oct. 9, Ehret, 10-1 and the No. 9 seed in Class 5A playoffs, has allowed an average of 7.0 points per game in its past five games. In District 8-5A play, including the loss to Landry-Walker, the Patriots allowed 49 points (7.0 ppg) and scored 273.
Live Oak coach Brett Beard had one word to describe Ehret’s defense — “nasty.”
“I love the attitude they play with,” Beard said. “You can tell just on film that the way they move to the football, they way they arrive to the football. They are just a nasty defense.”
Noting Ehret’s athleticsm and senior core who have been offered Division I scholarships, Beard said “they’ve got one of the better defenses we’ve seen this year.”
Live Oak (7-4), seeded No. 25, is coming off a stunning 33-28 victory at No. 8 Ouachita Parish in which it stopped them on fourth down at the 2-yard line.
Beard compared the Patriots defense to that of Scotlandville (10-1), which beat the Lions 34-7.
“They are athletic, and they really come after you,” he said. “That front seven is just scary, and their defensive backs can cover man-to-man and let the line and linebackers just go eat.”
In Lambert’s opinion, Ehret’s defense is the best in the state. This season, he said, the Patriots have allowed 122 yards per game — 64 rushing and 49 passing. Ehret has given up an average of 11.5 points.
Four of the five seniors — outside linebacker Michael Divinity (LSU), defensive end Robert Green (Army), middle linebacker Dejon Harris (Arkansas) and safety Jarius Wallace (Central Florida) — are headed to Division I college programs. Defensive end Kerry will play at Grambling. Junior nose tackle Dwayne Fisher is getting serious interest from LSU, Colorado and Arkansas.
“They’re fast, they’re strong, and they’re powerful,” Lambert said, when asked what makes his defense so effective. “I’ve seen other defenses on film — West Monroe, Ponchatoula. I’ve seen film of teams our opponent played — Zachary (which beat Live Oak 29-0). We’re way faster than them.”
Beard said that starts with Divinity, a primary pass rusher, and Robert Green, who set a school single-season school sack record with 23.
“Their two wing guys apply so much pressure,” Beard said.
Beard said he also was impressed with junior inside linebacker Anthony Hamilton as a playmaker.
Harris, who also began playing quarterback after starter Caron Baham had a season-ending injury in the first game, said the way the defense has come on has allowed him to concentrate more on offense.
Hamilton is a big part of that, Lambert said.
“He is becoming more of a leader and that main linebacker inside because some series, (Harris) doesn’t play on defense. We give him a break,” Lambert said. “Hamilton makes the defensive calls” when Harris is out.
Lambert said things started after Ehret went 0-9 in 2012, when his now core of defensive players were freshmen. For the 2013 season, Lambert and his staff went to a 3-4 defense because he had many “hybrid-type players who were long and could run.”
They saw results.
A big development occurred this season. After Baham was injured, freshman Travis Mumphrey, a passer, and Harris, a 6-foot-2 bruising runner, alternated at quarterback. After the loss to Landry-Walker, Lambert huddled with offensive coordinator Clint Harrison and decided to go with Harris, nicknamed Scooter, as the full-time man under center.
“We were too herky-jerky,” Lambert said. “With Scooter, we are more of a power running team. We found our identity. We decided to go with the senior and let the freshman learn from him.
“We have more continuity, started sustaining drives and scoring off big plays.”
More important, it allowed the defense more time to rest.
“When they’re rested, they create havoc,” Lambert said. “They started giving the offense short fields, and we took off from there.”
As the season went on, defensive coordinator Bryan Crayton coach and special teams coordinator Darion Franklin began installing wrinkles. Line coach Antoine Prince wold put Starks at nose tackle to use his quickness in disrupting option-style teams. A handful of games later, Lambert said, none of those wrinkles are new, and the defensive backfield, through practices, became better open-field tacklers.
“Teams try things such as an unbalanced line (two tackles on same side),” Lambert said. “They make checks, they know each other, they feed off each other.”