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Unsung defense stands tall for Tide

  • Concord’s Seimou Smith makes sure an Exeter receiver can’t retrieve the ball after it bounced off him during a goal-line stand last week. The Tide defense has stepped up when needed all season. <br/><br/>(WILL PARSON / Monitor staff)

    Concord’s Seimou Smith makes sure an Exeter receiver can’t retrieve the ball after it bounced off him during a goal-line stand last week. The Tide defense has stepped up when needed all season.

    (WILL PARSON / Monitor staff)

  • Concord High School beats Exeter in division I football semifinals at Memorial Field in Concord on November 16, 2013.<br/><br/>(WILL PARSON / Monitor staff)

    Concord High School beats Exeter in division I football semifinals at Memorial Field in Concord on November 16, 2013.

    (WILL PARSON / Monitor staff)

  • Concord High School beats Exeter in division I football semifinals at Memorial Field in Concord on November 16, 2013.<br/><br/>(WILL PARSON / Monitor staff)

    Concord High School beats Exeter in division I football semifinals at Memorial Field in Concord on November 16, 2013.

    (WILL PARSON / Monitor staff)

  • Concord’s Seimou Smith makes sure an Exeter receiver can’t retrieve the ball after it bounced off him during a goal-line stand last week. The Tide defense has stepped up when needed all season. <br/><br/>(WILL PARSON / Monitor staff)
  • Concord High School beats Exeter in division I football semifinals at Memorial Field in Concord on November 16, 2013.<br/><br/>(WILL PARSON / Monitor staff)
  • Concord High School beats Exeter in division I football semifinals at Memorial Field in Concord on November 16, 2013.<br/><br/>(WILL PARSON / Monitor staff)

The offense has scored more points (467) than any team in Concord High history. There’s a 1,000-yard rusher. There’s a 1,000-yard passer.

But as dominant as the football team has been with the ball, the undefeated Crimson Tide holds strong to one truth: Behind every great team is a great defense. And that defense gets a chance to cement its greatness in today’s state championship against Pinkerton.

“I think scoring so many points earlier in the season, defense kind of took a backseat,” Concord Coach Eric Brown said of outsiders’ impressions of the Tide’s ‘D’. “After that bad game against Memorial, people were questioning, ‘Is Concord going to be that good or go that deep in the playoffs?’ Part of that was we weren’t tested early, and when we finally did get that first test with Memorial, we really did not play that well that game.

“Since that game, we’ve shown what we’re capable of.”

What they’re capable of is limiting opponents to 13 points per game – only 11 points per game by the starting defense. The Tide has allowed more than two touchdowns in just two games. And opponents average just 228.5 yards of total offense per game.

“As a whole unit, we pride ourselves on limiting them to as (few) yards as they can get, and go out there and have a three-and-out, do our best to hold them,” senior linebacker Brandon Barrett said. “It’s a matter of everyone doing their job, because everybody’s job is important and we all need to work together in our positions to hold them.”

It’s not a defense of singular headliners or superstars, but a cohesive unit with one common purpose: to keep the opposition out of the end zone.

In that high-scoring victory over Memorial back in September, Concord held Memorial to just 36 yards on the ground, but the Crusaders passed for 409 yards, crossing the goal line six times. That was simply unacceptable, and the captains let it be known, calling a meeting immediately after the game.

“We knew we were going to come out and put up a lot of points, but to give up 41 points in a game, that’s not what we’re about, and we’re not happy about it,” outside linebacker Marc Gaudet said after that game.

So what did the Tide do? The following week, Concord allowed just a single touchdown to a playoff-bound Londonderry team. And the week after that, Concord held Pinkerton, which averages 42.45 points per game, to just two touchdowns in an overtime win. In last week’s semifinal victory over Exeter, the Tide held the Blue Hawks’ vaunted running attack to 186 yards on 59 carries.

Against both Pinkerton and Exeter, Concord was outsized on the line, but more than held its own, thanks to a rededication to the weight room in the offseason.

“That has everything to do with where we are right now,” Brown said. “I believe that, and the kids deep down believe that. Everyone that steps on the field is a stronger kid (than last year), and I take a lot of pride in that.”

The additional strength has allowed the Tide to hold its own against bigger players, to stay on the field longer, and to go deeper on its bench, with only four players starting on both offense and defense, and only one of those on the line. Concord has been particularly strong against the run, limiting opponents to just 3.86 yards per carry.

“It’s no secret that if you can stop or at least contain the run from any team, you have a better success rate,” Brown said. “When they have second-and-longs and third-and-longs, it’s difficult to maintain drives. And the strength of our run defense starts with the guys up front.”

In Concord’s 3-4 alignment, those guys up front are tackles Wyatt LaBombard and Dylan Naylor, with Matt Campbell and Kyle Corriveau rotating at nose guard, where Kris Skinner spent the regular season. But against the run, linebackers Gaudet, Walters Ndi, Will Scharlotte, Logan Lamoureux and Barrett are all stacking the box, eager to paste their pads on opposing ball carriers.

“It’s the hitting. I love hitting people, because on offense you can’t really fly around and hit somebody as much as you can on defense,” Lamoureux said when asked what he likes most about playing ‘D’. “You get to tackle and bring them down.”

It’s a ball-hawking mentality instilled by defensive coordinator Mike Pelletier, himself a safety and quarterback for the Tide in his playing days.

“Mike’s done a great job,” said Brown, an assistant coach back when Pelletier played. “He loved the game, and even as a young kid … he was a real student of the game.”

Pelletier tweaked the defense last week to combat Exeter’s T offense, and the defense never stood taller than when it stymied Exeter on three straight plays from the 4-yard line late in the first half, limiting the Blue Hawks to a field goal and setting the Tide off on its go-ahead touchdown. Cornerback Seimou Smith, part of the defensive backfield along with Diego Hebra, Shawn Jobin and Nick Comeau, broke up the third-down pass at the front of the end zone on that stand.

“It’s about everybody, from the defensive line to the linebackers to the D-backs, we all just do our jobs and we don’t care about singling players out or anything,” Lamoureux said. “If the entire team does their job and shuts down the other team, we can win.”

(Sandy Smith can be reached at 369-3339 or ssmith@cmonitor.com.)

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