Bulked-up Garner defense stuffs the run

tstevens@newsobserver.comNovember 20, 2012 

Smithfield Selma's Carlos Alexander (24) is held up by Garner's Terry Whitehead (72) and a whole host of Garner defenders. Photojournalist Johnny Johnson's raw edit from the Garner High School and the Smithfield-Selma High School football game in Garner, N.C. on Friday, September 28, 2012. The game was stopped in the second quarter due to rain, with Garner leading 34-0.

JOHNNY JOHNSON — newsobserver.com

Garner won the 1987 state 4A title with only four players who weighed 200 pounds or more. Defensive tackle Rodney Gordon was the biggest man, topping the scales at 240 pounds.

Linebackers Chris Dorman and John Leach weighed 145 and 175 pounds, respectively, prompting early game-week disparaging comments by Charlotte Harding runners that they planned to run right into the teeth of the Garner defense.

The Trojans won the title 41-20 with quickness.

Garner is still quick, but the 2012 version of the Trojans also is big.

Fayetteville Britt will line up across from a Garner defensive interior that features 330-pound senior Bernard Owens and 290-pound Macien Laurent. They are flanked by 219-pound Tyler Starowicz and 202-pound Carrington Austin.

They are backed by linebackers Tim Thorb (237 pounds), Jeremie Bolobiongo (230) and speedy Raekwon Britton (152).

Coach Nelson Smith said it is the biggest Garner team ever.

“We started getting bigger about four years ago,” Smith said. “We made some changes in our weight program and we’re seeing the results now.”

Defensive coordinator Thurman Leach said the weight room emphasis began after Wake Forest-Rolesville handed the Trojans 42-8 and 40-21 losses in 2009 and 2010.

“Our guys were hurt,” Leach said. “The week after the loss, they were coming to us saying that they had to get stronger.”

That defensive size is one of the big factors in the Trojans’ success against the run.

Leesville Road led the area in rushing offense before the game but managed only 96 yards on 28 rushing attempts. The Pride was averaging more than 320 yards rushing and almost 6.5 yards per carry, but outside of a couple of bursts by Maurice Lauchner (64 yards) got nothing against the Trojans.

Garner allows 110 yards rushing per game and enters each game, including this week’s state 4AA semifinal against Fayetteville Jack Britt, with the goal of taking away the run.

“That’s where you have to start,” Leach said. “If you can’t stop the run, it is very difficult to win the game. But we know that Britt is probably going to come out throwing against us so we have to be ready for that, too.”

The Trojans have outstanding speed in the secondary with Nyheim Hines, Samuel Sidwell, Tre Perry and Amanri Lanier and in the past two games have returned three interceptions for touchdowns.

An interception for a touchdown was a key a year ago when Garner defeated Britt, 34-27, in the state semifinals.

“We’ve played pretty good defense most of the year even though we’ve given up a lot of points the last two weeks (in a 76-34 win over Wakefield and a 56-35 win over Leesville Road),” Smith said. “But we faced some exceptional offensive players.”

Britt’s offense is explosive, too. Quarterback Mark McRae completed 21 of 26 passes for a career-high 343 yards and five touchdowns in a 56-52 win over Richmond County last week. The 232-pound senior also rushed for 83 yards and two touchdowns.

Wide receiver Jalen McDaniel caught a 32-yard touchdown pass in the final seconds for the victory. McDaniel, an N.C. State recruit, had eight catches for 178 yards.

“Defensively, we have to keep an eye on McDaniel and we have to stop the run,” Smith said. “Last year, Britt really stopped our run. We have to run the ball better on Friday.”

Stevens: 919-829-8910

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