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Weekly improvement

Aledo junior defender Caden Anderson (29) gets his arms around Fort Bend Marshall quarterback Malik Hornsby during the Bearcats’ victory over the Buffalos.

After allowing 60 points to Denton Guyer in season opener, Bearcats’ defense grew stronger each week

By Tony Eierdam
The Community News

Coming into the 2019 season, no one in Bearcat Nation was worried about the explosive Bearcats’ offense, a group that proved in 2018 that it was a scoring machine.

The defense entering the season? Well, that was an unknown that got off to a rocky start.

The Aledo offense tried to keep up with Guyer’s offense, but at the game’s conclusion the scoreboard read “Aledo 57” which 99 times out of 100 would have been enough points to win a game.

However, the Guyer side of the scoreboard read “60” as in 60 points, and many in Bearcat Nation wondered if this unit could keep opponents out of the end zone, or more importantly, would it be a good enough unit to help win the school’s ninth state championship in football.

Fast-forward to the Class 5A, Division II state championship game where that same defense faced a Guyer clone in Fort Bend Marshall, led by a pair of explosive backs — quarterback Malik Hornsby and running back Devon Achane.

Coming into the title game, Hornsby had completed 106 of 181 passes for 1,808 yards with 28 touchdowns and two interceptions. He has also recorded 1,360 yards on the ground with 15 TDs. Achane had rushed for 2,092 yards with 38 touchdowns. Shades of Denton Guyer, to say the least.

But the Bearcats’ defense bent but did not break. The Bearcats Black Shirts held explosive Marshall to 27 points in the first three-and-a-half quarters as Aledo built a 45-27 lead with six minutes left to play. Marshall scored two TDs in garbage time to make the score (45-42) look close, but when Caden Anderson recovered Marshall’s ensuing onside kick with less than a minute to play the defense had gone from surrendering 60 points in the season opener to becoming a state-championship defense.

Aledo Defensive Coordinator Brad McCone said the Bearcats played “exceptional technique” in the state title game that led to their success.

“Tackling Fort Bend Marshall’s running back and quarterback — and they are great players — was tough, but the kids stepped up and answered the bell,” McCone said. “Going into the Red Oak game (third-round of playoffs) — and Red Oak was very talented on offense and had a lot of speed — we asked the kids to up their game and they were able to do that.

“(Against FB Marshall) our kids were gap sound and it was a total group effort. I always talk to the kids about doing their job and not trying to do somebody else’s job. We told them to be gap sound and do their job. If you get 11 guys out there doing their job you have a chance to be successful.”

Bearcats head coach Tim Buchanan, an admitted “defense guy,” knew he had the kind of kids that would not give up after surrendering 60 points in the opener.

“The most exciting thing about it was watching these kids grow and get better every day,” he said. “A bunch of people would not have given a plug nickel for our defense after the Guyer game. But right now? I think a lot of people love our defense. 

“(Junior cornerback) Demarco Roberts is a gamer. He did it all from starting at cornerback to playing running back and playing on special teams. He made some great plays today at tailback when Jase needed a break,.

“And then he and the rest of the secondary — B.J. Allen, Nathen Fingar, Collin Johnson — played at a high level for the remainder of the season. Our defensive front also stepped up. (Defensive end) Logan Thurman has been battling a knee injury all season long and came back in the playoffs and played well. Our defense is extremely well coached. Brad McCone does an unbelievable job.”

After the Guyer game, the Bearcats responded with a shutout in their second game over a team from Mexico, and it added two more shutouts in wins over Cleburne and Joshua. 

In fact, it was a defensive effort that played a key role in Aledo maintaining its ongoing state record of 91 consecutive district wins when in overtime against Midlothian, Roberts stripped a Midlothian ball carrier of the ball, and an opportunistic Fingar scooped up the loose pig skin and sprinted 82 yards to the end zone for the game-winning score.

In the playoffs, the Black Shirts held Dallas Kimball to a late — very late — touchdown, and it held explosive Red Oak to 14 points in the third round of the playoffs. Holding an extremely productive Lubbock Cooper offense to 21 points in the state semifinals was a big reason the team reached the state title game.

“I knew going into the Guyer game,” McCone said, “that we had two new safeties back there (Fingar, Allen) and Guyer’s offense is a formation nightmare…I knew it would not be perfect, but I didn’t figure it would be that bad. 

“I think it kind of woke some kids up and they understood they needed to listen to the coaches. The Guyer game, looking back, was kind of a blessing in disguise.”

McCone said the defensive players took the Guyer game personally, even though Class 6A Guyer reached the 6A, Division II state championship game. In other words, to most there was no shame in losing to Guyer.

But the defense did not see it that way, and McCone said it led to extra time in the film room.

“Defensively, we simply took it one day at a time and tried to leave the practice field every day better than we were the day before,” he said. “The kids did a great job of putting in video time — and extra time — learning the mistakes that we were making. 

“After the Guyer game they did a great job of correcting mistakes. I think the key was the amount of time we were able to spend with them in the video room. It is very important, and they always say a picture is worth 1,000 words, and that is very true.”

From 60 points in early September to winning another state championship in late December. 

The Bearcats’ defense improved each week and showed what a little embarrassment combined with extra hard work can lead to obtaining their goal.

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