St. Marys D has been tough all season

St. Marys’ defensive back Elijah Eades (8) picks off a pass while teammte Will Billeter looks for someone to block in a regular-season game against Ravenswood this year. Eades and Billeter have been part of a dominant defensive group for St. Marys this season on its way to the Class A state title game Saturday. Photo by Joe Albright.

ST. MARYS — One of the stingiest defenses in Class A will take the field either shortly after the opening kickoff or the first drive of the game when the No. 2 St. Marys’ point-stopping unit sets up shop across from No. 1 East Hardy’s offense Saturday in the classification’s state title tilt.

Led by defensive coordinator Jay Powell, the SMHS unit comes in to the championship contest with all the confidence in the world. Especially after an impressive showing over the last three weeks of the postseason.

Jacob Henshaw’s 12-yard scoring run with 11:44 in the 2nd quarter of the Blue Devils’ 49-7 opening round win over Buffalo are the only points St. Marys has allowed in the playoffs. The closest any other team came to scoring was in the purple and gold’s quarterfinal matchup against No. 7 Gilmer County. Titans’ quarterback Trey Shuff came within inches of slipping in to the scoring box but he was stripped of the ball and St. Marys recovered the pigskin for a touchback.

In fact, it has been hard for any offense to get anything going. The fact is especially true if you are a top contributor of any opponent who happens to square off against the Blue Devils.

Buffalo’s Dylan Lucas, Gilmer’s Shuff and Fayetteville’s Will Fenton and Jordan Dempsey all got a front seat to the dominance of  the 11 lined up against them. The quartet were held well under each one’s season average in yards.

The postseason spectacular came on the heels of an equally impressive regular season. Just three teams scored double-digit points. Marietta tallied 36, Ravenswood 13 and Tyler Consolidated 26. Five teams scored in single digits and three didn’t score at all.

“You always worry if a defense is going to do their job,” said Powell when asked about how the defense has performed this season. “It is a concern trying to put the pieces of the puzzle together and we knew we had a lot of athletes but wondered if we had any football players. As the season evolved from two-a-days, to scrimmages and then games the boys showed us what they could do and answered our questions.”

Powell’s voice on the field is all-state first team hopeful defensive end Jacob Northrop. The 6-3, 251 lbs. senior has been a model for the rest of his teammates to look up to all season long. He is physical and a typical defensive lineman. According to Powell, “he runs hard and loves to make big plays; he is amazing because he can go sideline to sideline defenesively, it doesn’t matter where the play is Jacob can get there.”

Joining the senior on the line are three juniors in Dylan Gray, Elijah Hearn and Antone Herring. Gray leads the team in sacks probably because he is deceptively fast off the edge. Powell gives him credit for being a thinker on the field and says Gray gets better every game. In addition to his sacks, Gray also has 19 tackles for a loss on the season.

Hearn has been someone who has spent time in the oppositions backfield a lot this season. Though he may not have the sacks Northrop and Gray have, he does have his fair share of tackles for a loss with 6.

Lastly, Herring is a lot like Gray in some respects with his speed off the line and his willingness to seek out contact. The junior began the year at defensive tackle put has really blossomed since defensive line coach Bill Dalrymple moved him to end early in the season.

A jack-of-all trades for St. Marys, Devin Boley has proved a versatile piece to move around from the d-line to linebacker or cornerback. In fact, there was a game this year he was asked to do all three in one 48-minute period. He is a hard working young man who gets better week in and week out.

Leading the way at linebacker is senior Braden Barnhart. The three-year starter calls out the formations on defense and is like a coach on the field. He has a very high football IQ and can cover both the pass and provide solid run support.

Juniors Elijah Eades and Jaiden Smith join Barnhart in the second level. Both love squaring up to make a tackle and have had some big time plays this season when St. Marys was in need. Eades picked off a pass in the Buffalo game while Smith made a good cut on a underthrow ball last week against Fayetteville for an interception.

Ironically, Smith’s brother Boley pressured Fayetteville’s Will Fenton into making a the hurried throw.

The players with the responsibility to go head-to-head with a team’s wide receivers include Will Billeter, Sam Kincaid, Zach Long and Matt Eichhorn. Both Eichhorn and Long has split time at their position this year after Eichhorn went down with an injury in the Buffalo game and Long stepped in.

“I can’t speak enough about either one of them,” said Powell. “They have stepped in and made some big plays for us this season.”

For seniors Kincaid and Billeter, it has been the first season at the position. Billeter at 6’3″ was asked to do a lot fast at the beginning of the season but has since then become a shutdown corner. Coach Bill Axier has worked with Billeter all season long and he can work in a variety of coverages in whatever scheme is drawn up.