Meadowdale's success driven by defense
Jennifer Buchanan / The Herald
Meadowdale defenders (from left) Isaiah Barhoum (7), Mason Smith (42) and Garrett Walsh (right) combine to tackle down Lakes running back Yisrael Stephens in the backfield in the teams' Nov. 15 postseason game.
Jennifer Buchanan / The Herald
Meadowdale linemen Joseph Alkhedairy (57) and Marzel Simmons (right) celebrate a fumble recovery by Simmons in the first quarter against Lakes.
Just one remains.
Undefeated Marysville Pilchuck seemed like the conference's best bet to advance deep into the state tournament. Eastside Catholic spoiled those plans last Saturday. Edmonds-Woodway, Glacier Peak, Cascade and Lake Stevens, among others, are all gone -- only Meadowdale remains.
The Mavericks get a chance to do what the Tomahawks could not when they face Eastside Catholic at 5 p.m. today at Seattle Memorial Stadium. At stake is a spot in the Class 3A state semifinals.
In order to do advance, the Mavericks will rely on what's got them this far: defense. In the playoffs, the Mavericks have held opponents scoreless for six of the eight quarters, and they pitched a shutout last Friday, defeating Lakes 24-0.
"If they don't score, they can't win," defensive lineman JoJo Alkhedairy said.
Not only have the Mavericks been keeping teams from scoring, they've also been taking the ball from them at an alarming rate. In the past two games Meadowdale has forced 11 turnovers
"We win the turnover battle and we win the game," defensive back Josiah Evans said. "Turnovers are a confidence booster and they change momentum."
Defense has been a strength at Meadowdale for many seasons and this year is no different. Despite having a new head coach, the defensive side of the ball never missed a beat. In the first six games of the season, opponents scored just 50 points, an average of 8.3 per game.
But it wasn't all smooth sailing for the Mavericks. Battling injuries, the Mavericks entered the toughest stretch of their schedule, facing Eastlake, Glacier Peak and Oak Harbor in consecutive weeks.
The Mavericks came out of that stretch 0-3 to drop their season record to 5-4. But overlooking the Mavericks because of their record would be a mistake.
"It's not like we were losing to bad teams," first-year head coach Mike Don said. "We lost to teams that maybe we didn't match up very well with, either. What Glacier Peak and Oak Harbor did defensively really gave us some problems this year."
Evans said losing those games turned out to be a positive.
"People say we shouldn't be here because of all our losses, but our losses have pointed out our flaws and it shows us what we need to work on," Evans said. "My sophomore year we were undefeated and we never had our flaws pointed out until that last game in Camas. It was too late to change and get better. I feel like those losses really helped us improve and get better as a team."
And if there are still people out there who think Meadowdale hasn't earned its spot in the quarterfinals, Alkhedairy has a response. "They can say what they want, but we're still playing," he said.
To prepare for Eastside Catholic, the Mavericks referenced film from their 27-13 loss to the Crusaders last year in the quad-district playoffs. The 27 points the Crusaders scored was their third-lowest scoring output of the season.
Eastside Catholic is a different team than the one that went 13-1 and made it to the 2012 state championship game, but Don said the Mavericks watched the film looking for anything they could find in terms of how they line up in certain formations.
If Don needs any advice on how to slow down the Crusaders, he's got a good reference in his own house -- former Meadowdale head coach Mark Stewart is his roommate.
Stewart resigned following Meadowdale's loss to Eastside Catholic a year ago to take the job at Garfield High School. Meadowdale turned to Don, a former head coach at Lynnwood and Brewster high schools. Don needed a place to live when he moved back to the area and Stewart helped him out.
"Young guy needed a room and old guy's got some rooms," Stewart said. "That's basically it."
Don said the two do talk football, but last year's Eastside Catholic game hadn't come up.
"We just talk general football stuff," Don said. "We haven't talked about last year's game or anything like that."
It may be that Don doesn't need to ask Stewart. Bill Hummel, the defensive coordinator under Stewart, is in the same position under Don. And his defense hasn't missed a beat.
"Our defense kept us in ballgames," Stewart said. "They are doing basically the same thing this year. Their defense is really keeping them in ballgames and they're getting stuff done on offense."
Don said one of the major reasons for his team's continued defensive success is the Mavs' attention to detail.
"I think one of the big things is our defensive guys are really assignment based and they stay fundamental," Don said. "We've been given opportunities to make plays and we've made them when they've happened."
In order to continue that success this week, the Mavericks will have to deal with the size of Eastside Catholic.
"I think we've got to be physical," Don said. "They're big physical kids. They've got two (defensive backs) that our bigger than two of our lineman. We're going to have to make sure that we're fundamentally sound and that we're in the right positions and that we just keep grinding out the game. We've got to limit big plays and be able to run the football."
Much like the Mavericks, the Crusaders are fundamentally sound and don't make many mistakes. Don said that his team must continue to limit its miscues tonight because otherwise the Crusaders will take advantage of nay mistakes.
And the players, well, they're just going to stick with what's got them here.
"We're really just doing our job," lineman Marzel Simmons said. "Our coaches give us a game plan and they're always right. So as long as we execute, we'll be in a good position to win."
Aaron Lommers covers prep sports for The Herald. Follow him on twitter @aaronlommers and contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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