EDITOR’S NOTE: This story is the fifth installment in a weekly series examining a key play in the previous week’s football game for Mitchell High School.
The Mitchell High School defense rallied to spark a 42-23 win over Sturgis on Saturday and it was a team effort.
Not only were the Kernels able to return to their early-season form against the run, but they also received consistent pressure on Scooper quarterback Zach Shoun. Mitchell only had one sack in the game, but rarely allowed Sturgis to throw in rhythm, which led to errant throws and turnovers.
The Kernels forced four turnovers in the game, including a pair of interceptions in the third quarter and both were set up by assignment awareness, quarterback pressure and tight coverage.
Nash benefits from pre-snap adjustment
Early in the third quarter, Mitchell led Sturgis 14-2 on a second-and-9 play and the Scoopers lined up with two receivers set to the right side of the formation, which is referred to as “twins” in football jargon.
The Kernels broke the huddle in their base formation, but quickly shifted, moving outside linebacker Ryan McGinnis from the box to a high safety position near the middle of the field and left inside linebacker Jake Helleloid moved to right outside linebacker. The shift ultimately allowed four defensive backs to play zone defense across the top of the field.
Outside receiver Josh Fowler ran an “in” pattern and appeared to be open as he made his break, but Shoun opted for corner route to slot receiver Justin Burnham.
The corner pattern took longer to develop, allowing defensive end Ben Ziebarth to break inside the offensive tackle to put a hand in the face of the quarterback, throwing into double coverage. Cornerback Peyton Nash was able to come down with the ball, despite wearing a cast on an injured left hand.
“It shows the progress that we’ve made identifying receivers within in the zone,” MHS head coach Kent VanOverschelde said. “We got a hand in the face, pressure outside -- high school quarterbacks, if you put a little pressure on them, you can force them into some errant throws.”
Ziebarth’s interior pressure creates interception
Later in the quarter in a first-and-10 situation, Sturgis came out with a similar formation, except with a wingback to the same side as the twin receivers.
Linebacker Nick Robinson’s outside rush forced Shoun to take a step to his left, while Ziebarth -- who was playing defensive tackle on the play -- beat the right guard inside into the path of Shoun.
Fowler was open on a slant pattern underneath zone coverage, but Ziebarth was able negate an opportunity to step into the throw and made contact with Shoun’s throwing arm, forcing the ball to sail high and wide into the hands of McGinnis for his second interception in three games.
“If we can find some consistency at our defensive end positions, Ziebarth is a difference maker inside,” VanOverschelde said. “Him and (Nick) Rubendall are good players that continue to get better.”
Pass rush and coverage upend screen pass
The combination of pressure and assignment knowledge was also summarized on one third-quarter screen pass, which is one of the most difficult plays to defend at any level of football.
Defensive end Maxwell Bennett created instant pressure from the left edge, while Ziebarth once again broke into the backfield from the interior defensive line, forcing Shoun to throw sooner than anticipated.
Inside linebacker Joe VanOverschelde read the play from the beginning and smothered the receiver as soon as the ball was delivered, while Carter Jacobsen slipped underneath a block and was in position to make a tackle had the pass been completed.
"We got inside-out with our linebackers, good coverage downfield and pressure on the field," Kent VanOverschelde said. "It's another example of good team defense in definite result of our scout team guys repping the opposing team's offense."