They say defense wins championships; can’t win if they don’t score. Throughout history, that narrative has proven to be true and it’s been proven on many stages.
Most of the time the defensive limelight happens at the professional level from the Monsters of the Midway to the Legion of Boom. Luckily fans of stellar defense around the Dallas County area don’t have to travel far. Enter the Dallas Center-Grimes football team, more specifically the defense. Dallas County and the DC-G community have their own Legion of Boom, a defense that has been the talk of central Iowa.
There are 27 teams who will be heading into district play with one loss or less, including the Mustangs. The DC-G defense is among the top seven in terms of fewest points allowed among those 27 teams. Mustang football has been involved in a variety of game types from offensive explosions to defensive standstills. They’ve allowed just 43 points so far this season with three of their four games ending with scoring margins 14 points or less. They’ve been able to do that against teams who have over 1,000 total yards so far, two of which obtained 1,000 total yards before they played the Mustangs.
It’s a huge feat in of itself but that feat is amplified when you remember that just a year ago, the Mustangs gave up an average of 20 points per game. Through the first four games, they gave up an average of 28 points and over 1,00 yards allowed. The theme that came into this season and continues to thrive is the maturation and growth of this team, which head coach Scott Heitland said had a lot to do with the defense.
“A lot of these guys were thrown into the fire last year and where some may see a lost season, these guys saw a way to grow,” said Heitland. “They are good about viewing the game that way. They have been some of our leaders and have helped take this team to a new level.”
The Mustangs retain well over half of their starters from last season, including the defensive side of the ball. The growth made by the Mustang defense has already been showcased from a 7-0 shutout over Ballard to a pair of interceptions over the past two games. It feels like a completely different defense, yet on the same token, it feels like the dominant DC-G defenses of old. So many things have gone into the strong defensive season for DC-G but while the physical skillset may take the highlights, according to defensive coordinator Brian Hutzel, it’s what they do before the game that has the most impact.
“These guys do a lot of work behind the scenes,” began Hutzel. “They’ve learned just how powerful going over film can be. A big difference between last year and this year is how they utilize that information. They really get into the details from who’s the threats to watch out for, whether they like to cut or spin, or what their biggest tendencies are.”
From the guys in the trenches to the shutdown secondary, DC-G has put forth a defensive season that has been hardly matched. It all starts with the defensive line that has made uncomfortability the norm for opposing quarterbacks. It’s hard to doubt a defense that currently leads all of Class 3A with 17 sacks on the season that has also totaled 28 tackles for loss.
“A good defense can go a long way and we’re really proud that we have that here,” said Heitland. “Sometimes the best offense is a good defense. When our defense continues to force turnovers or three-and-outs, it gives our offense more opportunities to do some damage.”
It’s a feeling shared by those farther back on the defensive front including linebackers like Garrett Morris.
“It’s nice having the guys we do,” began Morris. “There are a lot of times where I’m not able to get to the quarterback or rusher before they’ve taken them down. Even if they do get through, we have enough time to get to them and stop them. We all work so well together that it’s just hard to do much against us.”
Of course, even if the quarterback and running back do make through, they have to face Morris and a linebacking core that is top two in their district in total tackles. Then it’s on to the third tier of the defense, the secondary comprised of a veteran group that gives just as much frustration to any quarterback they face. They’ve gone up against quarterbacks with big arms including Zach who managed just 39 yards through the air last week, despite averaging over 240 yards per game before-hand. A lot goes into such a strong secondary but it’s the confusion and consistency that brings the most impact.
“Just like our D-line, we may not be the biggest but we are quick and what’s more, we know how to use that speed correctly,” said Hutzel. “One of our big goals is to make the quarterback uncomfortable and that’ not just blitzing but closing those passing windows. We do man, man-zone concepts, show-zone concepts, and pattern-zone concepts which can make things challenging for quarterbacks.”
Coach Hutzel continued by discussing how well the secondary has performed especially when it comes to quarterbacks extending plays.
“There are often times where we’re rushing three people and getting home because we’re covering it so well on the back end,” said Hutzel. “We practice scramble drills all the time because usually, the quarterback is the best athlete on the team and the guy who can potentially do the most damage to a defense. If you can get him uncomfortable then you can get the offense out of rhythm.”
Next up on the docket is the homecoming match-up where the feared Mustang defense will take on the Perry Bluejays. While their homecoming opponent may have struggled through the first four weeks, they’ll still prove to be a strong opponent.
“They are s scrappy team who has big-play potential,” said Hutzel. “Their running back is a big person of interest to us. We need to do our homework and find out whether he’s a juke guy, does he like to cut back, does he use his hands. We need to be careful otherwise this back can hurt us.”
The defense will arguably play another big role in a potential win which starts with kickoff from DC-G Stadium at 7 p.m.