Phoebus defense plays just too quick, hungry

SportsFootballBill Dee

They hang their hat on defense over on Ireland Street, which meant that Phoebus' piano wiring of defending state champ Stone Bridge was all the more satisfying.

The Phantoms blitzed and smacked and disrupted and smothered darn near everything that Stone Bridge and its point-a-minute offense attempted in as one-sided a state semifinal as you'll come across.

In the end, their only gripe was that they didn't shut out the Bulldogs.

Instead, the Phantoms settled for a 38-8 argument stopper that some of them said they believed was possible, but in truth, no one honestly could have predicted.

"I'll tell you what, that was football," Phantoms coach Bill Dee marveled afterward. "That'll bring a tear to your eye when they're playing football like that."

Phoebus' defense outscored Stone Bridge's offense. The Phantoms came up with six turnovers, lived in Stone Bridge quarterback Patrick Thompson's kitchen and consistently gave their offense short fields and ample opportunities.

"Our defense is splendid," Phoebus quarterback Tajh Boyd said. "We've got a real spectacular defense. Everybody makes plays."

Four Phantoms had interceptions. Four players had sacks. Stone Bridge was held to 41 points and 302 yards below its per-game averages.

All of 10 seconds into the game, Stone Bridge was playing from behind and never came close to catching up, courtesy of Daquan Romero's sack and Demetrius Ward's ensuing fumble scoop and touchdown return.

"Their speed on defense," Stone Bridge coach Mickey Thompson said, "we just could not get anything established."

Indeed, both teams are stocked with Division I talent. Phoebus' was simply a little quicker and maybe a little hungrier.

The backstory to Saturday's game has been well documented. The Phantoms squandered a second-half lead to Stone Bridge in last year's state semifinals, after which the Bulldogs rolled to the title one week later.

Phoebus used that as motivation. Stone Bridge figured that a second consecutive win against the Phantoms would provide confirmation that last year wasn't a fluke.

Both teams dusted everyone in their respective paths and aimed for a rematch, figuring that the road to this year's state championship went through each other.

"I'll be honest with you," Dee said, "they did a lot of talking. I've been reading where they say that might be the best team to ever come out of the Northern Region. After they beat us last year, they talked about how they kicked our butts. … We didn't say much, and our kids just came to play. We got sick of hearing it and the kids came to play."

Stone Bridge runs a kind of single-wing offense with jazz. It includes direct snaps to running backs and halfback handoffs to the quarterback on pass plays and all manner of misdirection.

But Phoebus's front seven, particularly linebackers LoVante' Battle, Chaz Robinson and Caleb Taylor, filled gaps quickly and never permitted Stone Bridge running backs to get into the secondary.

When Phoebus turned three Stone Bridge turnovers into a 17-0 lead early in the second quarter, the Bulldogs' playbook began to shrink.

Stone Bridge was unable to run consistently. Phoebus defenders disrupted pass routes or pressured Patrick Thompson or both, as the Bulldogs were forced to throw.

"Every play," said Mickey Thompson, the quarterback's dad, "there was something going on that was causing problems for us."

Stone Bridge finally got on the board in the third quarter, turning a Shawne Alston fumble into a short touchdown drive and trimming the lead to 24-8.

That turned out to be fool's gold, since Phoebus intercepted Thompson on the next three possessions.

Battle returned one pick 35 yards for a touchdown, shortly after Boyd hooked up with Romero, a two-way beast Saturday, on a pretty 22-yard touchdown play.

"It was nice to be able to mount something to start the second half," Mickey Thompson said, "but as you look at it … wow. We were truly outplayed. There's not a whole lot that you can take away from it other than we were definitely outplayed."

Saturday doesn't quite erase the sting of last year's semifinal loss. But the Phantoms and their lockdown defense almost have completed their journey.

"We waited a whole year for this game," Dee said, "and now we're back in the championship game, which was our goal."

Dave Fairbank can be reached at 247-4637 or by e-mail at dfairbank@dailypress.com. To read more from Fairbank, go to his blog at dailypress.com/fromthetarpit.

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