When Garner plays, the Trojans’ high-powered offense featuring standout running back Nyheim Hines may have much of the attention focused in its direction.
After all, Garner has put up 388 points in just eight games this season (48.5 PPG) and Hines is coming off of a scintillating six-touchdown, 211-yard rushing performance in a 60-27 rout over Harnett Central.
The key, however, as the Trojans look to upend the defending Greater Neuse River Conference champions in Knightdale Friday and chase a potential conference championship down the stretch, could be found on the other side of the ball.
The Trojans’ lone loss of the season, a 28-21 defeat at the hands of rival Middle Creek, featured 289 yards rushing from the Mustangs.
With other teams focused on trying to run the ball to control the clock and keep the potent Garner offense on the sidelines, stopping the run has become paramount to the Trojans’ success.
When Garner (7-1 overall, 4-0 GNRC) has clamped down defensively and eliminated opponents’ ground games, the results have been as would be expected.
In the Trojans’ four wins over Broughton, Cary, Clayton and West Johnston, Garner held each opponent to less than 65 yards rushing and outscored those teams by a combined 230-37.
“We’ve got to concentrate on tackling and getting to the football,” Garner coach Thurman Leach said. “So we’re going have to be ready to tackle, pursue that football and get hats to the football.”
Knightdale comes to town having rushed for over 750 yards in their previous three contests. The Trojans will hopefully have two familiar hats back in the lineup as free safety Michael Gilchrist and defensive end Desmond Quinerly look to return from injuries.
In Garner’s victory over Harnett Central, Richard Evans found a huge hole in the middle of the Trojan defense en route to a 76-yard touchdown run and later was left uncovered on a 44-yard touchdown reception.
Leach knows those missed assignments need to be eliminated in the home stretch of the regular season in pursuit of a title.
“We’ve got to be ready to play; we can’t be coming out flat,” said Leach. “Harnett Central started out going tit for tat with us and Knightdale will do the same thing — it will be toe-to-toe.
“So we’ve got to be ready to play the start of the ball game and make sure we’re focused and know our assignments.”
One more assignment Leach said he would give his players would be to cut down on the penalties as Garner was penalized 13 times in their convincing win over Harnett Central for 118 yards.
So, as the Garner offense has helped put the Trojans in a great position with three conference games left, it’s the defense that may need to shine the brightest if Garner hopes to avenge its 48-45 loss at Knightdale a year ago.
“Last year, Knightdale won the conference championship and we’re looking forward to getting the opportunity to play them again this year,” said Leach. “Hopefully, we’ll have an opportunity to win it outright.”