Gambling defensive play helped build Garner’s high school football dynasty. Bringing pressure on the passer above all else, leaving defensive backs on the proverbial island solo covering receivers: those things are as much a part of Trojan football as logo-less royal blue helmets.
Garner (2-0), ranked No. 5 in the N&O poll, played its first home game at its temporary campus — South Garner High — and used that approach to turn back No. 9 Cleveland 56-19 Friday night before a packed stadium.
The Trojans gave up a long TD pass to Caiden Norman (a 51-yarder to Jacob Scott) on the game’s first drive but scored the game’s next six touchdowns, including two on interception returns.
“We’ve got a very senior-led group back in that secondary,” said Garner coach Thurman Leach. “We got grossed up on that early one, but we got them coached up, the players shook it off and moved on and played with great effort and production the rest of the way.”
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After Cleveland’s opening 65-yard scoring drive, the Trojan defense held to 125 yards the rest of the way.
With the score tied at 7, Garner senior defensive back D.J. Harris stepped in front of a Cleveland receiver on a slant over the middle. Harris grabbed the ball, picked up his blockers and rolled in for a 59-yard interception return.
“We just had to bounce back and play to what they do,” Harris said, speaking of responding after the blown coverage on the opening drive. “We studied it all week. They run combos with slants and curls and you just have to be on your toes, talk to each other and be ready to make plays.”
THEY SAID IT
Leach had plenty of praise for Cleveland’s offense and quarterback: “He’s a great talent. We had to adjust the way we went after things to deal with his athleticism. Cleveland just does so much so well. They’re a real challenge.”
THREE TO WATCH
Matthew Butler, Garner: The standout defensive lineman with multiple ACC offers helped lead a Trojan pass rush that made all of that man-to-man coverage possible. Norman saw way too much of the 6-foot-4, 265-pounder for his tastes.
Butler had the Trojans’ only official sack of Norman on the night.
Braxton Brokenborough, Garner: The Trojan quarterback was 7-of-9 for 101 yards and two touchdowns. His touch in the play-action passing game could give the Trojans that passing threat needed to take the pressure off of the run game.
Noah Giroux, Garner: The kicker? Yeah, the kicker. He had six touchbacks on the night, making the Ram offense’s task of driving the ball even tougher.
“You look at having to go 80 yards to get it in the end zone,” Leach said, “that’s a lot of ground to cover without making a mistake.”
BY THE NUMBERS
8: Different Garner players to score touchdowns on the night.
They were: Collin Eaddy 36-yard run, Harris interception return, Justin Lewis 13-yard reception, Keion White 9-yard reception, Anthony Stephenson 3-yard run, Andreis Harris 59-yard interception return, Prestige Bellamy 43-yard reception and Donovan Evans 60-yard run.
8: Carries it took Eaddy, the lead Garner tailback, to go over the century mark in rushing (102 total) in limited action on the night.
15: Quarterback pressures or hurries — whatever you prefer to call them — by the Garner defense against Cleveland quarterbacks on the night.
0: Number of quarters in which the Rams (1-1) scored more than 10 points, a figure that has usually been the norm for one of the state’s highest-scoring offenses over the past few years.
This game in a Tombstone quote: Garner plays a style of defense that few teams will against a team like Cleveland. And even given the loss, I think it’s good for teams to see something very different that what they will see in conference play during their non-conference schedule.
If you think you’ll be playing deep into November, you want to be prepared for something different that a team you have no familiarity with will use. Garner is that team for Cleveland.
The solo man-to-man pass coverage, driven by a heavy reliance on the pass rush getting to the quarterback before somebody gets beat down field that Garner uses with very little deep help is something 95 percent prep teams simply can’t do.
Why? They don’t have the personnel to pull it off.
In fact, it brings to mind one of my favorite lines from “Tombstone,” when Wyatt made his one-man charge across the river in the gunfight with the Cowboys and survived. One of his posse mates described the event this way: “Hell, I ain’t never even heard of anything like that.”
Which is exactly what teams face when they meet up with what Garner has this year: something most teams wouldn’t even dream of using — a stellar pass rush and an experienced secondary that can run and cover with little or no help at times.
If Garner can keep making their defensive approach work, the Trojans could play for a long time: even longer than typical Trojan football teams play each year.
Bad games? They happen: I think no less of Caiden Norman and Cleveland’s passing offense than I did before Friday night’s game. Yes, Norman got flustered at times. It happens to quarterbacks at every level of the game — see Tom Brady in the AFC Championship Game last year or either of the two Super Bowls against the Giants.
And the Rams still have talented receivers who will win games for them.
Just fast enough: Garner tailback Collin Eaddy only ran at full speed once in Friday night’s game, I thought (the 36-yard TD run). And that’s not a negative thing. He’s very good at taking the time to read the blocks/the hole and doesn’t just plow ahead without thinking.
I think he has great “football speed,” which I define as the ability to run just fast enough in order to not get tackled. Sometimes that’s faster than other times; sometimes you never hit that point because you make a good read and get the 3, 4 or 5 or whatever yards that are there and move on to the next play.
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Week 2 games
Aug. 25 results: Wake Christian 23, Trinity Christian 14
Week 3 games
Friday, Sept. 2: Garner at Middle Creek, 7; Wake Forest at Southeast Raleigh, 7; Cleveland at Apex Friendship, 7; High Point Christian at Wake Christian, 7