During their 10-game winning streak, Junction City’s defense has allowed a grand total of 94 points.
Hazen’s defense has allowed 97 points for the entire season.
Suffice it to say that yards and points may be rather difficult to come by tonight when the Dragons and Hornets meet for the 2A state crown at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock.
The weather could also play a role with the temperature expected to hover around 40 degrees with rain in the forecast.
But regardless of what Mother Nature may have in store, the Dragons and Hornets have been very stingy about opposing offenses getting into the end zone.
In the state semifinals last week at Foreman, the Dragons held the Gators to their second lowest point total of the season.
Foreman quarterback Kyren Batey, the MVP of last year’s state finals, had 206 yards rushing against the Dragons, but did so on 37 carries.
“We knew going in that he was going to make big plays,” said Junction City coach Steven Jones. “We knew that we weren’t going to stop him every single time that the ball was snapped, but we just knew that when he had a big run, just don’t blink, line back up and try to beat the guy across from you. If we were able to do that and control the line of scrimmage, then we could rally up and tackle him.
“Coach (Brad) Smith had a good game plan for Batey, and the kids went out and executed. That’s everything you can ask. We had a good game plan and did a good job of really knowing what to expect from Batey. Our scout team did a good job of emulating the option for us, and our players went out and executed.”
For Hazen coach Joe Besancon, Junction City’s speed stood out to him.
“On defense, they really fly to the football,” Besancon said. “They do a really good job. They’ve got good team speed. They just get to the ball and they’re really physical.”
After seeing the triple option last week, the Dragons run into an offense that is all about power.
Junior quarterback Blayne Toll along with junior running backs Ay’Jon Green and Tarrall Penn lead an offense that generates 351 yards per game on the ground.
Semaj Levingston, a senior who was recently named as a Farm Bureau Insurance Awards finalist for 2A Defensive Player of the Year, will be tasked with the rest of the Dragons’ defense to try and slow down the Hornets.
“He’s been consistent all year long at defensive tackle,” Jones said. “He’s been a big reason that the inside run has just been absent for other teams. We’re not really seeing teams that are trying to run the ball at Semaj, and that’s a big reason why he doesn’t have a ton of tackles. He’s going to get a stalemate with that offensive lineman, and they’re going to have to bounce it and we’ve got linebackers and safeties coming in to make all of the tackles. He’s doing a good job of getting in there and just doing what we ask him to do.”
A second finalist for 2A Defensive Player of the Year has a similar task.
Kade Perry, a senior who has been the Hornets’ leading tackler in each of the last two years and has 126 tackles this season, will try to stop a Junction City offense that has been held to under 30 points only once during their 10-game winning streak.
“He’s our heart and soul on defense,” Besancon said, adding that several teams in the Great American Conference have been recruiting Perry, including Harding, Ouachita Baptist and Southern Arkansas. “He’s the one that’s going to get everybody in the right spots and make sure everybody is lined up properly. They look to him to make a lot of plays. He’s a run-stopping machine, and he’s going to have to be that Friday night. He’s going to have his work cut out, but he does a really good job.”
Hazen’s defense has given up just 97 points this season and allows only 130 yards of total offense per game with a new defensive coordinator that has ties to Union County.
Hunter Vincent, who was an assistant coach at Parkers Chapel, arrived at Hazen during summer.
“In the past, we’ve been a four front team, now we run a lot of odd front stuff,” Besancon said. “We still jump into some four, but he had some new ideas and different ways to attack situations on defense, and it’s worked out for us. He’s done a real good job of getting the kids ready and showing them what they need to do. He’s done a real good job of game planning on the defensive side, and the kids have played really hard. They enjoy playing defense. They enjoy getting in there and mixing it up and getting after it.”
In addition to Perry, fellow seniors Jackson Shelman and Chance Taylor have enjoyed solid seasons with the latter closing in on 100 tackles for the season.
“They’ve made a big impact on the defensive side of the ball along with Kade,” Besancon said.
With two teams as adept at running the ball as the Dragons and Hornets are, how will the defenses fare? For Jones, it’s all about making sure the basics are covered.
“It’s about execution,” Jones said. “There aren’t any tricks or anything that is glaring that we need to cover. They run base stuff, we run base stuff. It’s going to come down to who is going to be more physical up front.”