By T. Scott Boatright
As Cedar Creek tries to fight its way into the Louisiana High School Athletics Association 16-team Division IV playoffs, the Cougars have something else to play for, too.
Something special. Something record-setting.
Cedar Creek’s defense has held opponents to 10 points or less in six of their eight games this season, and have given up an average of 12.0 points per game so far as the Cougars head into tonight’s regular season finale against 1-8 Tensas. The Cougars’ record for defensive scoring average is giving up only 11.7 points per game.
“It’s huge,” Middleton said of his defense’s stinginess concerning the scoreboard. “Our defensive coordinator Mark Ware has done a great job of getting the kids to play the scheme and do a good job … (assistant coach) Jacob Angevine has done a great job with the defensive line and (assistant coach) Trey Long with the secondary, but it all starts with Ware.
“The thing he does is have those guys flying around. They’ve carried us and have kind of allowed us to come along offensively and keep getting better as the year has gone on, all because the defense has played so well. We’ve been in a lot of games with a chance to win because of what they’ve been able to do.”
Middleton said the defensive aggressiveness preached by Ware is a big part of all of that.
“Bottom line, we’re going to get after the quarterback and give a lot of pressure,” Middleton said. “By doing that with movement, it creates a lot of havoc on young guys. We are not a ‘bend but don’t break’ team. We’re going to do the breaking. We are going to create opportunities and create distractions. We absolutely get after it.”
Middleton, a longtime coaching veteran on both the high school and college level, realizes how special his defense is.
“High school-wise, I have never been around a defense like this,” Middleton said. “To play as well as they have, and be as chaotic as they have — that’s hard to find. It’s by far the best defense I’ve been around.”
While Ware’s coaching abilities are long proven, the question becomes how special are the Cougars’ defensive players.”
“I think it starts with Coach Ware,” Middleton said. “He has always found a way because he’s really good at what he does. He’s always found a way to fit his personnel in a system. We’re another perfect example of that.
“But he says all the time that he just calls the plays and the kids play it. But he’s being a little modest. He’s the reason we’ve had the success we’ve had, and those kids have really bought into his personality and play the way he wants them to play. But make no mistake about it – it starts with Coach Ware. Obviously the kids have to go play and do it. We do have good players. But Coach Ware is the one who’s taken those players and built a system around those guys to feature their talents. He knows how to relate to kids and finds things in players to fit his personality. He knows how to get them to play hard.”
Middleton singled out three seniors and some of the team’s leaders — linebacker Carson Riley, defensive lineman Seth Smith and defensive back Jed Worthey. But Middleton added that all of Creek’s defensive players have played a big role in the Cougars’ defensive domination.
“Then obviously AJ Thomas, Bryce Rushing, Quincy Lewis, Lawson ‘Little O’ (Lillo) … I mean we are what I consider a very talented defensive unit. I could name all 11 of them and more. They’ve played lights out all season long.”
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