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My top 10 Lion football defensive performances in 2008

Outstanding defensive efforts on the gridiron are often more difficult to evaluate than offensive production because they’re not as easy to track on the spot as yards and touchdowns are.
Knowing what I know now – being able to check out coach Paul Willingham’s finalized 2008 tackle chart – it’s a bit easier to fully comprehend Ennis’ best performances on the defensive side of the ball. Looking back, there were certainly some sensational Lion playmakers who didn’t get the postgame interview they deserved on any given night, but hopefully I can make up for that to some degree. The Lions didn’t have anyone reach 20-plus tackles in a game this year as they had in recent seasons, but that could be a compliment to the defensive unit’s overall effort as nobody ever had to be a one-man army out there.

Honorable Mentions:
Most of my honorable mentions are listed within a given player’s section of the top-10 list, but there are a few more I need to add. Junior Thomas Carter had an excellent showing against Waco High with six tackles (two tackles for loss) and a pair of fumble recoveries. Thomas was also arguably Ennis’ most productive defensive player against Rockwall-Heath in the season finale with 10 tackles and a quarterback pressure.
Senior Jeremy Smith did a great job against Cleburne with a tackle, a fumble recovery, three pass breakups and an interception. In fact, Smith was the only Lion this season to pull off the elusive fumble recovery-interception combo in the same ballgame.
Last but not least, senior Kelvin Pace spent a lot of time in the Belton Tiger backfield during the season opener. He delivered two tackles – two tackles for loss, a quarterback pressure and two sacks. As you’ll see later on, Belton had quite a bit of trouble with the Lion defense to begin the season.

10. Jyavon King vs.
Waco High
As a multipurpose running back might do for an offense, King really filled up the defensive stat sheet in Ennis’ breakout victory of the ’08 campaign. He came away with six tackles – one tackle for loss, two quarterback pressures, a sack, a forced fumble and a pass breakup. A model of versatility, King played on both sides of the ball most of the season and so it’s no surprise that he also managed to deliver a rushing touchdown in this game. The junior deserves an honorable mention for his ballgame against Lancaster: 10 tackles – one tackle for loss, and two pass breakups.

9. Jason Vavra vs. Lancaster
It was easy to find a spot for this performance on my list because no Lion managed to deliver more takedowns in a game this season than the 15 tackles Vavra compiled against the Tigers. On any given night the junior was a good bet to lead Ennis in tackles from his safety position, but Ennis needed all 15 from Vavra as it just edged Lancaster in a thrilling shootout. This was exactly the type of performance where I didn’t give Jason the credit he deserved at the time, so here’s my second chance. Speaking of giving him credit, Vavra was always a busy Lion on the field and so he makes a number of appearances among my honorable mentions: vs. Mesquite Horn (nine tackles, one pass breakup, interception), vs. Midlothian (10 tackles – one tackle for loss), vs. Red Oak (12 tackles with touchdown-saving tackle on 63-yard gain) and vs. Kilgore (13 tackles, one pass breakup).

8. Jason Minchew & Jyavon King
vs. Corsicana
I’ve never included two players together on a list like this, but then again this is a unique circumstance. Both Lions were extremely and identically productive against the Tigers with 14 tackles (one tackle for loss) apiece. Senior Minchew’s tackle for loss was memorable because it came on Corsicana’s opening drive to help force a punt. Truth be told, I ended up focusing on some key defensive plays by other Lions that night and didn’t realize just how busy this pair of linebackers had been until I checked out the stats.

7. Will Pollan vs. Cleburne
The Ennis defense simply ate the Yellowjackets alive when these two teams met up and Pollan filled his belly as much as any Lion to be sure. The junior found a great way to top off his 10 tackles as he made one of Ennis’ three interceptions on the evening. Jeremy Smith was mentioned earlier for his efforts against Cleburne and one of his pass breakups actually resulted in Pollan’s pick. “I really like how the defense attacked the ball when it was up in the air to get three interceptions in the first half and they really helped us get off to a fast start,” said coach Sam Harrell. Pollan also flew all over the place against Mesquite Horn to compile 10 tackles in that ballgame.

6. Chonston Williams
vs. Mesquite Horn
Williams definitely received more than his fair share of snubs from me this season as he quietly put up strong numbers most of the year. In fact, his big-time ballgame against Horn (13 tackles – two tackles for loss, quarterback pressure, two pass breakups) somehow flew under my radar at the time. At least I couldn’t help but notice his quality play in the season opener against Belton when the junior made six tackles with a sack, a pass breakup and an interception. “I didn’t see the ball very well coming in, so I barely got control of it,” Williams said of the pick. “I’m pretty pleased [with the defensive performance overall], but we have to get in better shape and clean up those penalties.” Let’s not move on just yet because Williams had several other impressive efforts in 2008: vs. Corsicana (10 tackles), vs. Midlothian (nine tackles – one tackle for loss, sack) and vs. Red Oak (10 tackles – one tackle for loss, quarterback pressure).

5. Rob Boyd vs. Midlothian
I know Midway will return a bunch of top-notch defensive players next season, but Boyd showed me enough this year that I believe he’ll have a puncher’s chance at 16-4A Defensive Player of the Year in 2009. I won’t get any arguments from the Midlothian Panthers as Boyd chose trick over treat on Halloween with eight tackles – one tackle for loss, a quarterback pressure and three sacks. “We hope Rob keeps getting bigger and better,” said Harrell. “He’s a fast, strong guy who plays hard, which is exactly what you want in a defensive lineman.” “The whole D-line just clicked after halftime,” Boyd added. “We knew once we got a decent lead it was about to be sack time and we stepped it up.” Most of the junior’s strongest showings came late in the season: vs. Midway (12 tackles – one tackle for loss) and Kilgore (six tackles – one tackle for loss, two sacks).

4. Rob Boyd vs. Belton
There’s that Boyd guy again; he must be pretty good. It’s true everyone but the student trainers and mascots trampled the Tigers down in Waco, but Boyd was especially impressive with seven tackles – three tackles for loss, a quarterback pressure and two sacks. Those five plays in the backfield are as good as any Ennis defender produced this year. Oh yeah, Boyd received Defensive Player of the Game honors for his efforts. “It feels good [to receive such honors], but you have to stay humble,” Boyd said. “I hope it’s just the beginning to a great season.” “Rob lined up on their guard and center most of the night and whipped them most of the night,” Harrell added. “He made some big plays and did what he was supposed to do play after play.”

3. Miguel Almanza vs. Mesquite Horn
As I said, Boyd’s five backfield plays against Belton were as good as any Lion this season. That’s because Almanza matched him in week three with eight tackles – two tackles for loss, a quarterback pressure and three sacks. “We work a lot on the pass rush with Coach [Gary] Jessie,” Almanza said. “I hurt my knee against Belton and I was still a little hurt against Lancaster, but I was feeling good tonight to throw my body around and go all-out.” He came right back the next week with a big game against Waco High (10 tackles, forced fumble). Alamanza said when he was younger he didn’t know if there would ever be a prominent place for him on the Lion team because of his small stature. The senior defensive lineman apparently found a way to play big this year because he received Second Team All-District honors.

2. Justin Piper vs. Belton
Piper must’ve been taking care of business in August workouts because he opened the season with a huge game against Belton: 10 tackles – two tackles for loss, three quarterback pressures and two sacks. In a game where three Lions tallied at least two sacks and Ennis finished with 11 as a whole, Justin’s fellow D-lineman Rob Boyd gave credit to Piper and the other Lions in the trenches. “It’s a good feeling to know you’re not the only one getting in the backfield and there’s always somebody else there to back you up,” Boyd said. The quote certainly held true in retrospect considering Piper ended up leading Ennis in sacks while Boyd led the way in tackles for loss. Piper also came up big in contests against Waco University (10 tackles – tackle for loss, quarterback pressure), Lancaster (seven tackles – two tackles for a loss, sack), Waxahachie (six tackles – two tackles for a loss, a quarterback pressure, sack) and Rockwall-Heath (nine tackles, sack).

1. Jason Vavra vs. Waxahachie
I’m pretty sure most Ennis fans remember that Vavra played well in this ballgame. First of all, most Ennis fans watched the contest in person as maroon and green packed into Lumpkins Stadium for the Battle of 287. Secondly, Vavra’s 67-yard interception return touchdown late in the first half broke the Indians’ collective back to put Ennis up by an insurmountable 28-6 advantage. The junior ended up with 14 tackles – two tackles for loss, and two pass breakups in addition to the interception for a touchdown. “I was running and saw the out [route] was open,” Vavra said. “The quarterback was rearing back to throw, so I just jumped the route. I thought I was going to drop the ball, but I kept on running. Even though I was tired afterwards, it was 10 times better than a normal interception. We had so much momentum at that point.”

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Posted by on Dec 29 2008. Filed under Editorials. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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