When Carson and McQueen clash in a first-round Division I playoff football game tonight at the Jim Frank Track & Field Complex, the top-ranked defense and the hottest defense will be on display.
The Lancers enter the game having allowed just a league low 228 yards per game and a third-best 17 points a contest.
Carson, meanwhile, has allowed just one score in its last three games, that coming in the fourth quarter of last week’s 49-6 win over Douglas.
“I think it starts with coach (Jim) Snelling,” Carson coach Blair Roman said. “He was the defensive coordinator for coach (Ken) Dalton, and he does a great job teaching fundamentals in terms of preparation. They have some physical players up front and good athletes at linebacker.
“They pushed us around a bit up front.
“We had to have some big plays in the passing game to beat them.”
The biggest one was a 56-yarder from Joe Nelson to Connor Pradere that gave the Senators a 7-6 halftime lead, and Carson went on to win 28-21. Nolan Shine, who started that game at quarterback, threw two TD passes in the second half.
Kyle Draeger is ranked No. 3 in tackles with 107 and linebacker Nathan Narra is 17th with 74 stops. Linebacker Roman Satroplus was 23rd in the region with 64 stops.
The Lancers’ strength is defense. Carson’s 28-point effort back on Sept. 5 was the second-most points scored against McQueen all season.
McQueen’s offense, led by quarterback Johnathan Weethee (779 yards, 9 TDs), receiver Nate Agliolo (17 catches, 233 yards, 3 TDs), receiver Cooper Clelan (11 catches, 173 yards) plus running backs Elijah Stein-Gardner and Draeger is ranked seventh in total offense with 154 points in nine games.
That group is running into a red-hot defense led by safety Asa Carter, linebackers Nick Shine, Ikela Lewis and Gerardo Lobado, defensive end Brady Rivera and cornerbacks Dilyn Rooker and Caulin Bartley.
“All of us are coming together,” Rooker said earlier this week. “We had a lot of seniors who didn’t play a lot last year so we were inexperienced. The last few weeks we’ve been playing well, and we’re flying to the ball like no other team during the year.”
A big reason for Carson’s resurgence on the defensive side of the ball started when Shine shifted full time to linebacker.
“It has made us a better defense overall,” said defensive line coach Vic Castro. “He loves to play defense and he has a nose for the ball.”
“He’s a crazy man back there,” Rooker said. “I think it was the best thing for the team when he started playing defense all the time. Why wouldn’t you want to have your best defender playing defense all the time?”
Rivera has a team-leading seven sacks and a team-leading six hurries. Against Douglas last week, he spent most of his night in Douglas’ backfield. He has 62 tackles on the season. He has given Carson a pass rush that was severely lacking last year.
Neither Rooker or Shine is looking past McQueen.
“It makes no difference at all that we beat them earlier,” Shine said. “We have to bring our A game. They have a great defense, but so do we.”
“Both teams are so much improved,” Rooker said. “McQueen has played with every team.”
Help from younger teams
As per his custom, Roman has several players from the freshmen and junior varsity teams working out this week.
Greg Wallace, Tyler Huling, Spencer Rogers, Jordan Aikins, Connor Quilling and Willie Lee are among the JV call-ups. Freshman Abel Carter will also suit up today, but he’s likely to shift over to wrestling starting next week regardless of today’s outcome. Jace Keema, JV quarterback, was on vacation this week and didn’t attend practices. Roman said Keema is turning his attention to basketball, but that in the event of an injury could return to football.
The temperature is expected to dip below freezing for tonight’s game with snow possibly by the weekend.