Late in the first quarter of Plymouth’s then-scoreless first round playoff game against Saline, Wildcat defensive lineman Adam Packer bull-rushed past the Hornets’ left tackle and leveled quarterback Trey Heren with a crunching blindside tackle.
The hit separated Heren from the ball, which was recovered on the Saline 11 by Plymouth linebacker Faris Abraham.
Six plays later, Plymouth scored its first touchdown in a game it would go on to win, 27-7.
Chalk one up to the Wildcats’ “Goon Squad”, the nickname of Plymouth’s resurgent defensive line, which is heating up as the temperatures drop.
“No matter what team we play, if we come out and do what we’re supposed to do and do what we’re coached to do, we can take it to anybody,” said Packer.
The Wildcats’ defense has yielded just seven points to its last three opponents, thanks in large part to a defensive line that relies on quickness and discipline.
“We only have one returning starter from last year – Brennen Beyer – so we had to move guys from different positions and teach them how to use their hands and to be aggressive,” said Plymouth defensive line coach Pat O’Connell, who excelled at Central Michigan University in the mid-90s. “The biggest thing is that these guys need to do what they’re supposed to do and not free-lance.
“They’ve really been coming together the past few weeks. They played with a lot of confidence in the (17-7 playoff) win over Canton. Guys have had good games and bad games, but they seem to be peaking now.”
The unit is spear-headed by Beyer, who is headed to the University of Michigan on a football scholarship. Other vital contributors include Donte Fox, Packer, Ryan Gomoll, Kenny Durham, Brandon Landers, Dominique Guyton and Davon White.
“We moved Donte to the nose to give us more speed up the middle and he’s done a great job of forcing things out to our guys on the edge,” said O’Connell.
While the D-linemen may not have as many responsibilities as the linebacking unit that does its work behind them, there’s a lot more to it than heading upfield once the ball is snapped.
“It’s all about technique,” said Landers. “If you try to rush through the line standing straight up, you’re going to get popped, and it’s going to be a done deal. But if you stay low enough, you can have the biggest guy in the world coming at you and you can beat him.”
In Saturday’s 1 p.m. Division 1 regional final, the Wildcats will line up against Novi Detroit Catholic Central, which is armed with one of the most vaunted rushing attacks in the state.
“They’re going to come out and try and run it down our throats,” said Fox. “We’re just going to have to come out and play as tough as they do.”
“They’re very big up front,” said Durham. “But we’re quick.”
About a half-hour after Packer’s impactful sack against Saline, the Hornets were manufacturing a productive drive that took them deep into Plymouth territory.
However, just as the Hornets were on the brink of scoring a momentum-shifting touchdown, Beyer sacked Heren on back-to-back plays to put the wraps on what would turn out to be Saline’s final threat of the afternoon.
The “Goon Squad” had struck again with its combination of
speed, tenacity and discipline.
Ed Wright can be reached at (734) 453-1980 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Donte Fox sacks Saline quarterback Trey Heren. (Ed Wright photo)