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High school football: Dixie defense key to Flyers' success down the stretch

Pine View vs Dixie in 3AA semifinal high school football in Salt Lake City, Thursday, Nov. 13, 2014.
Pine View vs Dixie in 3AA semifinal high school football in Salt Lake City, Thursday, Nov. 13, 2014.
Ravell Call, Deseret News

With the way the 3AA playoffs have unfolded, perhaps it’s appropriate that the turning point of the season for Dixie’s defense came in a loss to the Hurricane Tigers on Sept. 26.

The 34-14 defeat was the Flyers’ second-consecutive setback and fourth in six games. During that span, Dixie had surrendered more than 42 points per game.

Such is what can happen when a unit has virtually no experience, which is the position the Flyers were in.

Trenton Miller was Dixie’s only returning starter on defense, but he was moved to running back and head coach Blaine Monkres didn’t want to play him both ways. Jaden Harrison played some defense a year ago, but didn’t have a major impact.

“I think the coaches just kind of woke us up,” said senior captain and middle linebacker Chris Hall. “After losing two games in a row, we kind of just realized we had to make a change. We didn’t know we were playing as individuals. Coaches told the captains that we need to start playing as a team.”

From then on, players started eating lunch together every day to develop chemistry off the field. That led to setting more team goals and spending more time hanging out with each other.

It’s certainly had an effect on the field, as the Flyers have given up less than 19 points per game in their last seven contests. More importantly, they have won all of them.

“I think we didn’t really play as a team at the beginning of the year,” Hall said. “We emphasized that when we realized that was a problem. We just started playing together and I think that’s one of the reasons we’re doing a lot better now.

"Losing to Hurricane and Pine View, we realized how bad it sucked to lose, and so we just try to work harder at practice and motivate each other to play just a little bit harder during practice so we can be a better team, especially on offense.”

For Monkres, it was just about the time needed to get in-game reps on the varsity level.

“It’s just a matter of experience,” he said. “Now they’ve got that varsity experience. They keep getting better and better every week. ... They’ve just come along as the year’s gone by and gotten better every week. That’s part of what keeps you moving on in the playoffs week to week, is all the players keep doing a little bit better than they did the week before because the competition gets better.”

As the Flyers have jumped into preparing for their rematch with the Tigers, Hall said the defensive unit is happy with its performance down the stretch. Now the focus moves to refining the details, such as hitting harder.

“We just need to play smart and just remember the little things,” Hall said. “I know they’re a better team too, so we can’t underestimate them. ... They’ve got some bigger boys on their team. A lot of the teams we play have a lot bigger kids, but that doesn’t stop us. We don’t really care how big they are. We just know if we do our job and just play hard every play, that we can come out on top. I think if we just have that mindset coming into this game, we should be able to come out on top.”

Ryan McDonald is a part-time reporter at the Deseret News. Follow him on Twitter @ryanwmcdonald.