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Published: 10/7/2004

Sidelines: Birds of prey

BY STEVE JUNGA
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
St. Mary Catholic Central defensive starters include (front, from left) Joel Langton, Joe Boggs, Kyle Wawrzyniec, Nathan Roelant, (center, from left) Eric Wickenheiser, Matt Wszelaki, Matt Mueller, John Kipf and (back, from left) Neal Howey, Nick Jordan, and David Thomas. St. Mary Catholic Central defensive starters include (front, from left) Joel Langton, Joe Boggs, Kyle Wawrzyniec, Nathan Roelant, (center, from left) Eric Wickenheiser, Matt Wszelaki, Matt Mueller, John Kipf and (back, from left) Neal Howey, Nick Jordan, and David Thomas.
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MONROE There are two overused sports cliches connected to winning that sometimes reflect a coach s philosophy: You can t win if you don t score, and Defense wins championships.

At Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central, coach Jack Giarmo might seem a bit greedy because his Falcon football team resembles another cliche: The best of both worlds.

Giarmo s Falcons are scoring an average of 43 points per game while allowing just one point per contest.

Heading into what figures to be their top challenge of the regular season tomorrow night at Riverview, the Falcons are 6-0 overall, 4-0 in the Huron League and ranked No. 1 in Michigan s Division 6 state poll.

Riverview, a Huron League school with a significantly larger enrollment (857 to MSMCC s 438), is ranked ninth in Division 3. The Pirates (6-0) were D-4 state runners-up in 2002.

St. Mary Catholic Central, which last won a state title in Class B in 1991 under former coach Joe Sandersen, went 10-3 in 2003, winning three playoff games before dropping a 30-28 heartbreaker to eventual champion Ravenna in the D-6 state semifinals.

Just a half hour down I-75 from the Motor City, this Monroe SMCC football team might best be described in production-line terms.

The gaudy offensive numbers are the product of Giarmo s conservative, old-school running game, which plugs in running backs like interchangeable parts and has fired on all eight cylinders since midway through the 2003 season. Second-year SMCC defensive coordinator Jim Clawson s 4-4 defensive alignment relies on 11 players simply sticking to their job descriptions, building a wall, brick by brick.

This is our second year running this defense and the guys have worked hard in the offseason, said Giarmo, who runs the offense and credits Clawson for the defensive success. We re coaching every step, every play, every down in practice, and we re working on fundamentals.

It s a senior-dominated defense, and this is the second year for a lot of them and we had a good long playoff run last year. That allowed us to play a lot of football. We got stronger as the season went on, and we just picked it up from last year.

The two-way success has been a byproduct of Giarmo having enough talent on his 40-player varsity roster to compete almost entirely with two platoons. Only one player starts both ways.

The Falcon defense has yielded just 99.5 yards of total offense per game and has forced 28 turnovers (10 fumbles, 16 interceptions, 2 safeties) through six games while outscoring foes 259-6.

The coaches spend a lot of time watching film and studying our opponents, Giarmo said. They prepare the kids, and the kids have responded well. It s a matter of repetition, and they re following us. They re listening, and they re executing.

The first line of defense is the interior line of tackles Kyle Wawrzyniec (pronounced vuv-GIN-yitz), a 5-10, 260-pound senior, and Joe Boggs, a 5-11, 175-pound junior, plus senior ends Joel Langton (5-11, 250) and Nathan Roelant (6-3, 210).

Our defense works together as one, Langton said. Everybody follows their keys, and we prepare very well. It s kind of been the theme of our defense to get the shutout. We thrive on shutouts and we really strive towards that.

The middle of the Falcons 4-4 defensive set is manned by an all-senior contingent.

Mike Mueller, a 5-11, 175-pound inside backer tops the team with 52 tackles and five sacks, while fellow ILB Matt Wszelaki (pronounced shuh-LACK-ee) has 28 stops. The outside backers are 5-11, 185-pound Eric Wickenheiser and 6-6, 170-pound John Kipf, who have added 26 and 25 tackles, respectively.

If everyone does their assignment, we know we re going to have a successful defense, Wszelaki said. I expected a shutout for the whole season. I don t think Grosse Ile should have scored against us.

I don t think any team should score against us because we re prepared to an extreme by our coaches. They really rep us and do film and have scout sheets for us. I expect we can shut down every offense in the league. The preparation is at least 90 percent of it.

In the secondary, 5-9, 140-pound senior cornerback David Thomas has come up with seven interceptions, three more than Kipf. Nick Jordan, a 6-2, 195-pound safety, has 36 tackles. Junior Neal Howey (6-0, 185) rounds out the starting 11.

Our coaches know everything that every team s going to do before they do it, and they drill it into us week after week, Thomas said. Everyone is assigned a key. You follow that key, and you hope the guy next to you follows his key. If you all do your own assignment, everything is set.

A lot of people talk about our offense, and not so much about the defense. We ve taken that to heart this year, and we re trying to prove ourselves. We want to win with our defense. Our offense and our defense mesh really well. With the way they re able to move the ball, we get our breaks and we re able to come out at 100 percent to take down the other team.

In four of its six games, the SMCC defense has surrendered less than 100 yards of total offense, with the stingiest performance coming in the first week when Summit Academy was held to minus-15 yards.

We re a bend-but-not-break defense, Giarmo said. We try to keep people out of the end zone. We ve had one scored on us [by Grosse Ile]. Unfortunately, it was a fourth-down pass and a back-of-the-end-zone-type catch where the guy just made a great catch.

The defensive effort has been complemented by a ball-control ground attack that features four players who have rushed for between 468 and 239 yards and combined for 20 TDs. The top rusher has been 6-1, 205-pound back Nick Teen, who has carried 55 times for 468 yards and scored 9 TDs. Quarterback Kris Fanslaw is 10-of-14 passing for 233 yards and 4 TDs, and has run 21 times for 239 yards. In all, 10 different Falcons have found the scoring column on either offense or defense.

Because we re platooning, Giarmo said, the kids on offense and defense can t wait for their turn to get back out there on the field. That keeps em hungry. In tight ballgames, when it comes to the third and fourth quarters, we re going to be in better shape condition-wise because the guys are only going one way. Only playing them one way gives more kids an opportunity to get out there, and they seize the opportunity when they get out there.

Contact Steve Junga at:sjunga@theblade.comor 419-724-6461.



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