Defense holds key to Titans’ championship hopes
By Matt Nestor
It’s the oldest sports story in the world. A classic match-up of the unstoppable force against the immovable object.
The Boylan Titans enter the IHSA Class 6A championship game with a defense that is on fire. Their defense is only giving up 10 points per game in the playoffs, as opposed to only 9 during the regular season.
That has worked out well for a Titans offense that has struggled with turnovers in the playoffs and has not put up as many points as they did during the regular season.
On the opposite side of the ball, Marmion has an offense that is on a roll. They have averaged 28 points per game, which means the Titans’ defense will have to be on their game to win.
“It’s going to be a challenge for us,” Boylan Head Coach Dan Appino said. “We’re going to have to get great leverage. We’re really going to try to get off on the ball. Then, we have to tackle once we get to the point of attack. You watch some of their kids run the ball, and they’re not only elusive, but they are really good at striking.”
Marmion presents a balanced offense that can strike with the run and the pass. But the key for the Cadets is a massive offensive line that is much bigger than anything Boylan has seen all year.
“It’s not only a big offensive line, it’s really big backs,” Appino said. “We haven’t seen that combination all year long.”
Defensively, the Cadets have not played as well in the playoffs. After an opening-round shutout of Thorton Fractional North, Marmion has given up 25 points per game the last three rounds.
But Appino said they’re defensive line is the biggest Boylan has played. He also said given the level of their competition during the season, he expects to see the defense that only gave up 8 points per game during their first 10 games.
“The fact that they only gave up (8 points per game) in their first 10 games says a lot to me, because its a good conference,” he said. “I think that is the team we’ll see. They’re a big, physical team, and they’re going to give our offensive line the biggest challenge of the season.”
Whether they are on offense or defense, the Titans will have to keep track of No. 46 for Marmion, TJ Lally. Playing running back and linebacker, the senior star has put together an eye-popping playlist on YouTube, and will be a handful for the Titans.
“Its both sides of the ball where he’s a challenge,” Appino said. “Offensively, you want to run at him a little bit to see if we can wear him down. On defense, we have to rally to the ball and tackle well. I’ll feel wonderful if the first guy who gets to him can bring him down. He’s that kind of runner.”
Boylan’s keys to the game: Turnovers and tackling. Boylan has struggled with turnovers in the playoffs. Against a team like Marmion, that can hurt you. And if the defense does not wrap up the punishing Cadets’ runners, it could become a long day.
Marmion’s keys to the game: Defense and patience. The Cadets need to find a defense that was dominating much of the season. While the Titans have struggled on offense the last two weeks, they have playmakers. Their offense will also need to be patient. Boylan’s defense will stop them more than they are accustomed to. They need to be ready to grind it out.
Predection: Both teams have played close games after first-round blowouts. Both teams also have not seen a better team. Boylan’s defense should be just good enough to make just enough stops to eke out a 28-20 victory.
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