MILDRED — Ultimately, the goal remains to win. But when you’re a defensive lineman, personal aspirations mean something.
“I want the tackle across me to hate me, or fear me at the end of the game,” junior defensive end Nic Stone said.
That’s a sentiment his teammates up front on Mildred’s defensive line can relate to. They all play with an edge, with a little bit of fury, an anger.
But it’s controlled, and it’s a big reason the Eagles (11-1) are playing for a berth in the Class 2A Division II state semifinals. They meet Nocona (12-0) in the Region II-2A DII finals at 7:30 p.m. Friday in Aledo.
That doesn’t mean the five guys who primarily play up front for Mildred’s front four are undisciplined brawlers. They’re actually witty, intelligent and quick to crack on one another. But on Friday nights, they come to play.
“Our front four, since about Week 5, they have been solid,” defensive coordinator Billy Dan Chambliess said.
“When you can control the trenches ...,” Chambliess trailed off, leaving the rest as a given.
You can be successful.
Never was that more evident than last week, in a 44-14 win over Clarksville in the regional round. Mildred posted a season-high five sacks. Stone, fellow junior end Joe Carrizales and starting defensive tackles Taylor Barlow and Thomas Finigmow — both seniors — each had one. Senior Noah Pennell, a starter on offense, spells Barlow and Finigmow at tackle on occasion.
“They’re doing everything we’ve asked them to do,” Chambliess said.
Barlow ranks third on the team with 56 tackles, while Finigmow is fourth (52), Stone fifth (43) and Carrizales seventh (38). Pennell is in the top 10 with 28. They’re not counted on to rack up tackles, but they have been active this year.
“Our defense is predicated on gap control,” head coach Patrick Harvell said. “Their job is to control the gaps. If they’re successful doing that, we’re usually successful that night.”
“They have set jobs,” Chambliess said. “They may not get credit for tackles, but they make the plays to set them up.”
At tackle, the Eagles are stout, and deep. Finigmow and Pennell are four-year starters, though Pennell misses playing more on defense. The other four defensive linemen go one-way. “I get in for two plays, then I’m out,” Pennell lamented. He understands the reasoning behind it, though.
Barlow has emerged as a playmaker. In addition to his sack last week, he had several bone-jarring hits in the backfield.
“The greatest feeling is getting by your guy,” Barlow said.
Finigmow, a reigning all-Golden Circle pick on the defensive line, has been rock solid. He had 10 tackles two weeks ago in the playoff opener.
The ends are more of a surprise. Carrizales wasn’t even expected to be on varsity this year. Stone didn’t start when the season began. The line didn’t come along until several weeks had passed.
“Actually, injuries decided that,” Chambliess said.
Quintin Weaver, an athletic, long and lean junior started the season at defensive end and was lost to a season-ending knee injury in the opener. Pennell missed all of the preseason and the first game with a leg injury.
“At the beginning of the season, it was a little confusing,” Pennell said. “We were not sure who was where. As the season as gone on, and especially in the playoffs, we’ve figured out our jobs.”
Midway through the year, coaches decided in order to keep linemen fresh, they had to platoon them. That thrust Stone and Carrizales into the spotlight.
“It’s our first year on varsity,” Stone said, “(and) I think I’ve had a good year.”
“I don’t think I do that well,” Carrizales said, drawing a collective laugh from the others, including one of his own. “But (coaches) tell me I do.”
Carrizales had four quarterback pressure against Clarksville, and caused an interception when he hit the throwing arm of quarterback TJ Tinnell.
“Once Joe gets mad, look out,” Barlow said. “Sometimes I’ll look at Joe, and it’s like, ‘You’ve got to get mad!’”
Now 13 games into the season, the front four — all five of them — have a real feel for what each other is doing. They also have a feel for when things are unraveling.
It’s a collective effort in all senses of the game.
“When we start messing up, we let each other know,” Finigmow said. “When we start slacking, we let each other know. We work as a group.”
They’ll need another strong effort if Mildred expects to make it to Cowboys Stadium and the state title game, something the Eagles missed out on by a touchdown last year. The table has been set.
“The last two weeks our front four has done a great job of controlling the line of scrimmage and making plays,” Harvell said.
What makes them tick
Mildred’s front four on defense, or at the least the five that get the most snaps at the four positions, have a few things in common. Just a few:
Nic Stone, Junior, DE
Pregame ritual: Tell jokes
Favorite artist/band/music: Alice Cooper
Celebrity crush: Betty White
Favorite meal: Swedish meat balls
Taylor Barlow, Senior, DT
Pregame ritual: Listen to “Boys of Fall”
Favorite artist/band/music: Any rap
Celebrity crush: Zoey Spears
Favorite meal: Chicken and rice
Thomas Finigmow, Senior, DT
Pregame ritual: Listen to Boosie
Favorite artist/band/music: Tu Pac
Celebrity crush: Lola Monroe
Favorite meal: Pork chops, white rice and soy sauce
Noah Pennell, Senior, DT
Pregame ritual: Get in a fighting mood
Favorite artist/band/music: Classic rock
Celebrity crush: Jennifer Aniston
Favorite meal: Any Chinese food
Joe Carrizales, Junior, DE
Pregame ritual: Energy drink
Favorite artist/band/music: Bob Seger, Eagles
Celebrity crush: Emma Stone
Favorite meal: Jambalaya