Zachary defense makes big strides _lowres

Advocate staff photo by PATRICK DENNIS -- Safety Khari Lowe, left, intercepts a pass during Zachary High's 39-21 victory over Live Oak last month.

The most important game of Zachary football season might have been the one it didn’t win.

Heading into a Week 1 matchup with Byrd, coach David Brewerton found himself with a defense that was throttled by the Yellow Jackets in the 2013 season opener scoring 44 points in the first 14 minutes on the way to a 50-21 win. It was Brewerton’s first season at the helm of the Broncos, and he was trying to develop a new identity for his program — one that revolves around an aggressive, physical mentality.

The game became less about the score, and more about proving this wasn’t the same Zachary team that earned a reputation of having to outscore teams in order to win.

Then, something crazy happened — it worked.

The Broncos lost to Byrd 24-21, but Brewerton said it was a coming out party for his program and new attitude was founded.

“It established right off the bat that this is the way it’s going to be. It established this is the way we’re going to play ball and showed we’re going to win some games and hopefully it was going to be our new identity,” Brewerton said.

“I think when that game ended, even though it was a loss, some eyes were definitely opened as far as our kids were concerned.”

Fast-forward 11 weeks, and Zachary is playing Airline in the first round of the playoffs as the No. 3 seed after winning the rest of their games.

But the most important thing to Brewerton is that the Broncos are no longer simply outscoring teams, but stopping them to the tune of 17.5 points allowed per game, down from 32 points per game just two seasons ago.

It’s been the transformation Brewerton and his staff dreamed about when they first transferred over from Livonia in the spring.

“It’s just coming in and doing what we do and making improvements and trying to change the mindset in the kids,” Zachary defensive coordinator Thomas Moore said. “That’s the only thing that had to happen. Luckily for us, we have a bunch of kids who bought into our mindset early.”

Moore said he’s seen a boost in confidence from his players since the days of trying to learn a new 4-2-5 defensive system in spring practice. It was a slow start as the defense struggled to keep up with the already established offense, but they’ve slowly built the attitude the staff always wanted, and everything is clicking at the end of the season.

Through Week 9, defensive lineman Donovan Perkins led the Broncos with 84 tackles, while defensive back Khari Lowe recorded four interceptions this season. Defensive linemen Darryl Brown and Aaron Celestine lead the team in sacks with five each.

But Brewerton said his team is different from some of the other top defenses around the state, in that they don’t have any singular, big-time playmakers. Instead, the Broncos rely on all 11 players to act as a team, rather than looking to a stud leader.

“It’s kind of been a deal where, week-to-week, it’s been a different guy,” Brewerton said. “We don’t have that one true, standout guy that leads us in tackles every week. I think it’s extremely important to talk about having 11 helmets to the ball on every play on defense.”