STANWOOD — For much of this season, Stanwood’s high-scoring Wing-T rushing attack has grabbed the headlines.
Big performances by standout senior Ryder Bumgarner and the Spartans’ playmakers in the backfield have been commonplace for a squad that enters Saturday’s Class 3A state quarterfinal clash against third-ranked O’Dea with a 10-1 record and a 35.6-points-per-game scoring average.
But the Spartans have been more than a one-trick pony this season. The defense has been stellar as well.
Stanwood led Wesco 3A North in fewest points allowed this fall, surrendering an average of just 12.2 points during league games. The team opened the season with its first shutout in five years, held six of its opponents to single digits through the first three quarters of games and has forced a whopping 26 turnovers.
The defensive unit has shined in big moments as well. The Spartans held rival Arlington to a season-low six points to help secure their first Stilly Cup victory in 13 years. They forced four turnovers and kept high-scoring Lakes in check during a wire-to-wire Week 10 playoff win. And in last week’s first-round playoff matchup against sixth-seeded Mt. Spokane, the 11th-seeded Spartans came up with critical interceptions and late sacks while pitching a second-half shutout against the Wildcats.
“I don’t want to be greedy in saying it, but I think that there were a few games where the defense has definitely been something that should’ve been talked about a little bit more,” said senior linebacker Noah Grina, the team’s leading tackler. “… I feel like the defense should get a little more credit than it does, but we love our offense.”
While the unit may feel a little overshadowed, it’s ultimately fine with flying under the radar. Stanwood’s happy to let its play do the talking.
“The guys love to play defense,” defensive coordinator Collins Cameron said. “I don’t think they care about accolades or attention. At the end of the day, it’s just (about) playing a good game and (getting) the win. The only things that matter are how many points we gave up at the end of the day and being the most physical team on the field.”
So, what’s made the defense click?
Much of the success has come from the continuity of the group. The Spartans have nine seniors and one junior among their defensive starters. Many of the contributors have been playing together since youth ball and shared the experience of playing together at the Pro Football Hall of Fame National Youth Championships in Canton, Ohio, in 2017.
“We all work together and communicate pretty well,” junior cornerback Max Mayo said. “We’re all good friends on and off the field, and I feel like that translates in games.”
“I think everyone playing together, going to Ohio, that stuff has really built a family, honestly,” he added.
That experience together helps in Stanwood’s multiple-look defensive scheme. Communication is key with defensive alignments changing based on matchups.
“All of us having a great bond outside of football and in school and just being able to be on the field as friends, it makes communication so much easier,” senior defensive end Carter Kinney said.
The contributions have come from all over the field, too.
Grina and senior Otto Wiedmann have been consistent forces for the team from their spots at linebacker. Grina has a team-high 101 total tackles and four tackles for loss.
“(He’s) been lights out,” Cameron said of Grina. “I think every team game plans for him and that makes a difference every weekend.”
Seniors Caden Caldero and Kinney have combined for seven sacks and seven tackles for loss while bookending a stout rotation on the defensive line alongside fellow seniors Draydin McDonald, Jeremiah Johnson and Garrett Foxen.
“Those guys hold it down our front,” Cameron said. “It all goes down in the trenches, and those guys have made an impact on the defense as a whole.”
Bumgarner makes a major impact for the defense as well. Cameron called the versatile standout the “field general” of the unit. The senior is part of an opportunistic secondary that’s played a large part in team’s 14 total interceptions. Eight of those have come from Mayo and senior Gary Grisham, who share the team lead with four apiece. They’ve both emerged as playmakers for the Spartans at corner as first-year starters.
“We talk about turnovers all the time,” said Cameron. “It’s guys taking advantage of all the opportunities. Kudos to them for staying focused. With all those opponents who run the ball (in Wesco 3A North), corner can be a tough spot during the season. But those guys are good players and come up with big-time plays.”
With the defense coming away with stops and turnovers throughout the year, it’s ultimately contributed to the team’s success on the other side of the ball. Stanwood’s Wing-T attack on offense has been allowed to do what it does best for most of the season, which is chewing up clock with long, methodical drives while playing with the lead.
“It’s like basketball without a shot clock,” said Stanwood head coach Jeff Scoma, who calls the plays on offense. “If we have ball control and keep the ball moving and get methodical drives, it’s really just kind of disheartening for the other team. If we can do that and continue it and the defense gets some stops, we feel really good about our offense.”