Football: Cardinals again on the ascent
All too frequently, football coaches allude to the fact that defense wins championships. But Bellaire head coach Trey Herrmann would settle for a few victories in the playoffs.
Defense is a big reason why the Cardinals are headed to this week's Class 5A-Division I playoffs. Bellaire is making its first postseason appearance since 2004.
"Our offense has been a little up-and-down, although we're starting to run the ball better," Herrmann said. "But our defense has been playing well the last few weeks. No doubt, it's been our strength."
Bellaire's defense struggled early in the season, with the low point a disappointing 44-14 loss to Oak Ridge in Week 3. However, Bellaire fixed its problems once District 20-5A play got under way.
The Cardinals posted a pair of shutouts against Milby and Sam Houston, winning by respective scores of 42-0 and 65-0. And, the Cardinals haven't looked back since then, capturing five of six games heading into the regular-season finale against Madison.
"The first three games, we played some really good teams. It showed us what we needed to work on," said senior linebacker Michael Holland, alluding to early losses to Brazoswood, Hastings and Oak Ridge. "Since district, we've been playing well. I have to give credit to coach Herrmann. It's 90 percent coaching and 10 percent execution on our part."
Through nine games, Bellaire ranked No. 2 in District 20-5A in total defense, allowing just 215 yards per game. The Cardinals were surrendering a paltry 60 yards on the ground.
"The key is we're giving up less than one yard on first down," Herrmann said. "We're forcing teams into second-and-long and third-and-long situations. It definitely puts the pressure on the other team."
The defensive line sets the tone, with senior Arnold Blackmon, a 6-foot-2, 235-pounder, paving the way at defensive end. Joining Blackmon up front are junior Dylan Moore at nose guard and juniors Jarod Piert and Isaiah Stevens rotating at defensive tackle.
"We try to mix things up and adapt our defensive fronts to our opponent," Herrmann said. "Our defensive linemen are really aggressive. They make things happen."
Holland is the instigator in the linebacking corps. He starts at inside linebacker alongside senior Collin Speich.
"Michael isn't a big-time college prospect, but he plays exceptionally hard," Herrmann said of Holland. "I think everyone feeds off his energy."
Junior Keith Ewing, who has tallied more than a dozen sacks, is the strong side linebacker. Herrmann considers Ewing "a star in the making."
Also splitting time on the weak side are junior Duce Haskin and sophomore Gabe Byrd.
The secondary is hardly a weakness, either. Senior Dequante Carter is one of the best cover cornerbacks in the area. Rounding out the group are junior Khari Sharif at free safety, sophomore Devin Lauderdale at strong safety and junior Melvin McAdams at the other corner. Sharif tallied seven tackles and grabbed his fifth interception in Bellaire's recent 24-13 victory over Westside.
Holland said the defense has only one flaw that needs to be corrected.
"We've forced turnovers, but we need to get more defensive scores," Holland said. "To win in the playoffs, we have to score more points. It's not just the offense's job. We can help out, too."
Herrmann said he's not surprised that Bellaire's defense has performed at such a high level. The Cardinals return a whopping seven starters on that side of the ball, although the majority of them are juniors.
"We took a chance and played most of these guys as sophomores and it's paid off," Herrmann said. "They're playing as a unit. I couldn't be more pleased with our defense."
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