By Terry Schwinghammer
Miner defender Chance Howard (52, on ground) forces a fumble while Trey Passen (25, left) waits to scoop up the loose ball.
With Tyler Meurer running past defenders, Garrett Mason running over people, and Keaton Cox and Kendall Williams running around and through them, the Linton Miners offense has garnered much of the attention this season.
Understandably so. The Miners offensive juggernaut is rolling up 418 yards and 55.2 points per game.
And with such a prolific offense, the defense is sometimes overlooked. But the Miner defense has allowed just 7.2 points per game. And the starting unit has given up just 35 points all year - 21 to Monrovia and seven each to Sullivan and Tecumseh.
The strength of the Miner defense has not gone unnoticed by North Knox coach Josh Chambers.
“Linton’s a good defensive football team and they were ready for about anything. That’s probably the best defensive Linton team we’ve seen in the recent past,” Chambers said after Linton’s 56-7 win over the Warriors in Friday’s sectional semifinal.
Miner coach Brian Oliver simply stated, ““We just came out and played solid defense like we have been all year.”
The numbers only tell part of the story. So let’s take a little deeper look inside the numbers.
We’ll start with Week One at Speedway.
The final numbers show the Miners outgained Speedway 425-176. Running back Jacob Jones accounted for 166 of those - 17 carries for 143 yards and two catches for 23.
What the stat line doesn’t tell you is 77 of Jones’ rushing yards, including his 68-yard touchdown run, came against the Miner reserves.
Last Sunday Jones was highlighted in the Indianapolis Star.
In a game last year against Lutheran, Jones had six touchdowns and 468 yards.
This season he has rushed for 1,524 yards and scored 20 TDs. In Speedway’s regular season finale against 7-4 2A Triton Central, he ran 25 times for 342 yards and five scores.
The article said Jones has “Exceptional speed. He can explode and make people miss. You’re not going to arm-tackle him.”
The Star didn’t mention the Linton game.
Other 1,000-yard rushers have fared worse.
Springs Valley’s O’Brien Selby managed just 10 yards on 11 carries against the Miner D.
North Knox’s Caden Fields rushed for 1,829 yards on 237 carries this season. In the regular season the Miners held Fields to 64 yards on 24 attempts. Friday his 13 carries yielded just 22 yards. Backfield mate Skyler Ballew, who ran 111 times for 872 yards this season did pick up 78 yards on 14 rushes. But the bulk of those came against the reserve unit in the fourth quarter.
Eastern Greene’s Caleb Hamilton piled up 1,258 rushing yards this season. The Miner defense limited Hamilton to 10 yards on 9 totes and 21 on 4 catches.
Garrett Froschauer has led North Central’s ground attack with 1,231 yards on 181 carries. In the regular season finale against the Miners he needed 19 carries to manage just 35 yards.
NC quarterback Brayden Kutch has carried 114 times for 1,013 yards. Against Linton, 29 of his 52 yards rushing and all 31 of his passing yards came against the jayvee unit.
On the final series, Kutch ran for 28 yards and connected with Dawson Basinger for 31 inside the 10. On fourth and goal from the 1, Kutch took it in on a keeper.
Linton outgained North Central 226-23 in the first half.
How has the defense stacked up against the strongest teams on the schedule?
Sullivan quarterback Trey Powell has completed 171 of 267 passes for 2,895 yards - an average of 263 yards a game - and 34 touchdowns
Against Linton in Week Two, the Golden Arrows QB was 11 of 20 for 181 yards, including a 69-yard TD strike to Dakota Caton.
But three costly turnovers - two interceptions and a fumble - led to 21 points for the Miners in a 48-7 loss.
By the way, the Arrows are 10-1 and playing Evansville Memorial for a 3A sectional championship this Friday.
Defending 2A state champ Monrovia put up an average of 321 rushing yards a game against a rugged Indiana Crossroads Conference schedule.
The Bulldogs put up 173 yards on 44 carries against the Miners. Quarterback Conner Jelley threw for 88, hitting 4 of 7. An over the top bomb to Dalton Smith accounted for 52 of those.
Smith has rushed for 1,288 yards on 91 carries. Gabe Milton has added 756 yards on 111 totes.
Milton led the Monrovia rushing attack against Linton with 63 yards on 15 carries. Smith added 61 on 10 tries.
Two fourth quarter fumbles cost the Bulldogs. The last one with under two minutes to play led to the game-winning drive.
They hit hard and fly to the ball. And with 15 interceptions and 12 fumble recoveries as a unit, the Miner defense has been opportunistic.
So who are these guys?
Ian Fonceca - all 5-6 and 150 pounds of him - has been big on the defensive line with 58 tackles (through 10 games), 6 tackles for loss and 2 fumble recoveries.
Juniors Chance Howard and Levi Jerrells have emerged as playmakers along the defensive front. Howard has 59 tackles (9 games) including 12 for loss and 2 recovered fumbles. Levi Jerrells has pitched in 35 stops (9 games) with 5 behind the line.
Captain Avery Gentry spearheads the defense at linebacker. Gentry has 47 tackles despite missing two games due to a concussion sustained in practice. Williams has 31 tackles from his outside linebacker position - 9 for loss - and a team-high 6 interceptions.
With those guys up front, the secondary doesn’t get as many opportunities.
Trey Passen leads the backfield corps with 36 tackles. He also has two picks. Meurer has 31 tackles and 4 interceptions.
Farther down the postseason trail, the defense will be counted on even more.
Better teams will match up better with the Miners’ strength and athleticism and we may no longer see the “instant offense” we’ve been accustomed to seeing all season.
As the old cliche goes, “Offense wins games. Defense wins championships.”
Terry Schwinghammer is a sports writer for the Greene County Daily World. He can be reached by telephone at (812) 847-4487, ext. 27. He can also be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.