May 22, 2019

‘Physicality’ the backbone of Braves defense

Courtesy of Nick Simon and the Times-Georgian

(Franklin, GA) — Physicality, stinginess and a penchant to make the right play at the most opportune time have been characteristics that have defined the Heard County High School football defense in their march towards Wednesday’s Class AA state championship showdown with Rockmart.

It goes without saying that the members of the Braves’ ‘D’ are charged up for the opportunity to deliver one more all-out performance on the state’s grandest stage of Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.

“It feels good,” senior linebacker Andrew Leak said about earning a championship opportunity. “We’ve been working hard and we know it’s not going to be an easy game. We have to stay focused and stay ready.”

Leak and his fellow HC defenders have stymied their competition throughout the 2018 season, limiting opponents to just 13.8 points per contest.

Things weren’t perfect at the beginning of the regular season, however, as the team gave up a combined 66 points in back-to-back blowout losses to defending state champion Hapeville Charter and Rockmart, the team that they’ll square off against for the title at 1 p.m. on Wednesday.

Hitting that rough patch, senior safety and University of Tennessee verbal commit Aaron Beasley is grateful that the team was able to put that behind them and wreck shop all the way to Atlanta.

“We overcame a lot of adversity at the beginning of the season, so it feels good to make it here,” Beasley said on Wednesday. “We still have to finish it off and win the state title.”

Following the blowout loss to Rockmart, the Heard defense managed to shut down Central, Spencer, Temple and Jordan to set up a brawl with Callaway in the annual “Pulpwood Classic” rivalry on Oct. 19.

Down 10-7 late against the Cavaliers, the Braves came away with a critical three-and-out that allowed quarterback Alijah Huzzie and the Braves offense to march down the field and punch in the game-winning score.

A staunch Brave defense has led the way for the Braves during an 11-game winning streak (Photo: Jeff Napier)

The defense made their presence felt in the de-facto Region 5-AA championship game at Bremen two weeks later when defensive end Zaylin Wood got to Blue Devil running back Tyran Dobbs in the endzone for a safety to give them a slim 2-0 lead in the first half.

They continued to make a further impact in the postseason when in back-to-back games, the potent offenses of Douglass and Dublin were held to just nine points combined.

Finally, the biggest play of Heard County’s season came during overtime of last Friday night’s semifinal tussle with Fitzgerald. Up 38-30 and needing a stop to win the game, Beasley booked his team their reservations for the ‘Benz’ when he picked off Purple Hurricane QB Kody Krause to ice it.

Wood, a University of Temple verbal commit, described the Braves’ defensive approach each week.

“We really just try to do what we have to do and have the same mindset every game,” Wood said.

Beasley talked about the confidence that they have in each other to get the job done.

“We take care of our responsibilities,” Beasley said. “We trust each other to do what we’re supposed to do, and we can all count on each other to come through and make big plays.”

The Maroon and White defenders are currently preparing for an all-too familiar challenge for the title game, a Yellow Jacket offense boasting multiple skill position players that can break off an explosive play at any given time.

Not concerned about their previous encounter with Rockmart or any other prior result in general, the Braves are consumed with delivering their best effort they’ve had all season.

“Right now, we’re just trying to focus on ourselves and we’re making sure that we can play the best we can come Wednesday,” said Beasley.

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