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Published: Thursday, 9/4/2003

Blue Devils feeling defensive, showing it

BY DONALD EMMONS
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
Springfield coach Phil DeMars. Springfield coach Phil DeMars.
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Springfield coach Phil DeMars isn't looking for any I-told-you-so's after only two weeks of the high school football season.

DeMars understands that there's plenty of football to be played. But that doesn't mean the Blue Devils coach isn't thrilled about starting with back-to-back victories.

A 30-12 win over Rogers followed by a sound 21-7 decision over Bowsher certainly supports DeMars' belief that the Blue Devils are a team to be reckoned with.

“We feel like we have a tradition here,” DeMars said. “We've had one losing season in 15 years. We feel like we're getting a little overlooked, so that might work to our advantage. We'll have some motivation coming out on Friday nights.”

Springfield looks to claim a third straight win over a City League team when it takes on Clay (1-1) tomorrow night.

If there's one aspect of the Blue Devils' team that has been most dominant so far this season it's been the defense - neither Bowsher nor Rogers scored until the fourth quarter, when the games were well in hand.

And standout Rogers receiver Fred Davis, while he caught six passes for 75 yards and two touchdowns, didn't reach the end zone until the final three minutes of the game.

Taylor Taube, one of several returning lettermen in the starting defensive lineup, said the performance in the season-opener against Davis allowed the Blue Devils a chance to gauge their growth from last season, when they finished 5-5 overall and 4-3 in the Northern Lakes League.

“It showed how much we improved because last year [Davis] just embarrassed us,” said Taube, a linebacker and the team's leading rusher. “This year we shut him down, kind of. He still scored two touchdowns and he's a great athlete and had a lot of good plays, but I think we contained him really well.”

Springfield quarterback/defensive back Steve Harvey believes the effort was huge in establishing a defensive presence against a Rams team touted as a major offensive threat. The Devils' work against Rogers represented the style of play they intend to display weekly.

“The main thing was, everybody flew to the ball,” Harvey said. “No one person made huge plays. Fred Davis is a great athlete, but on defense we had 11 guys running to the ball, and that's what won the game for us.”

The same plan of swarming to the ball-carrier was put to use against Bowsher. Led by linebacker Ricky Gonzales, a first-team All-NLL performer a year ago, Springfield allowed the Rebels only one score. Gonzales recorded a team-high 17 tackles.

“He's fearless. He just throws his body around,” said DeMars of Gonzales, the Blue Devils' top defender.

Starting defensive linemen Mike Bekier (5-10, 200), Patrick Miller (6-2, 190), Nick Johnson (6-2, 260) and Marcus Mullins (6-4, 265) made it a major chore for Rogers and Bowsher to move the ball on the ground. Even though the Rebels rushed for 166 yards, they eventually had to go to the air to score.

DeMars credits defensive coordinator Steve Hankish for the way the players have responded in the first two games. They reach ball-carriers quickly. They deliver hard hits. They gang-tackle.

Furthermore, they've been able to keep opposing offenses from making the big play.

“Coach Hankish has stressed from day one running to the football,” DeMars said. “The kids are gaining confidence. If they go for a hit and miss, they know someone else is coming to make the tackle.”

Playing well on defense could go a long way for the Blue Devils, DeMars said.

“We've stressed improving our defense and I think we have,” DeMars said. “In order to compete for a [NLL] championship you have to be good on that side of the football.”

As far as gaining respect or as a team to be reckoned with, at least in the NLL, the Blue Devils are content with letting their play determine those opinions.

“We all know how we can play and we know how we want to play,” Harvey said. “We're going to take that to heart and just play for each other. People can write what they want, but they're going to see on Friday nights that when we come together as a team, it's going to be a beautiful thing.”



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