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The Collins football team’s defensive line could face its toughest test to date tonight, but Titans Coach Jerry Lucas said he is confident that his front five is up for the challenge.
Class AAAA No. 5 Collins (9-2) hosts Nelson County (8-3) at 7:30 tonight in the second round of the state playoffs. The Cardinals’ high-powered, wide-open offense, which averages 48.3 points and 477 yards of offense per game, is led by dual-threat quarterback Jonathan Breeding, who has accounted for 83.7 percent of his team’s total offense and 84.7 percent of its touchdowns this season.
“I think we’ve got a lot of playmakers on defense, [and] I’m anxious to see how our defensive line matches up against their style of offense,” Lucas said. “Our defensive line, from the first game to the last game, they have not had a bad game.”
The Titans’ formidable front-four-plus-one is made up of senior defensive end Zach “Buck” Wilson (6 feet 4, 210 pounds), senior nose guard Mark Bradford (6-1, 330), sophomore defensive tackle Leland Cardwell (6-1, 220), junior defensive end Wyatt Williamson (6-5, 220) and senior tackle/end hybrid Kris Jones (6-1, 250), who “even though he’s not a starter he plays as many snaps as any nose [guard] or defensive end,” Lucas said.
The quintet, Lucas said, is an amalgamation of speed, size, quickness, girth and guile.
“We have a really, really nice combination,” the Collins Coach said. “It’s an impressive group of kids.”
And the Titans’ goal tonight will be to stop – or at least to contain – Breeding, a senior southpaw who has accounted for 4,392 (3,111 passing and 1,281 rushing) of the Cardinals’ 5,247 yards of total offense and 61 (36 passing and 25 rushing) of their 72 touchdowns. Collins’ front five, which will only have “a split second” to figure out if Breeding is going to run or pass on a particular play, will be the Titans’ true front line of defense.
“We challenged them this week,” Lucas said. “We need to control both sides of the ball.”
Leading Collins’ D-line is Wilson, an elder statesman who has started since his sophomore season. He has 70 tackles to go along with one fumble recovery and one interception (which he returned for a touchdown) so far this year.
“Our job is to just control the line of scrimmage, and dominate the player on the offensive line who lines up across from us,” Wilson said. “We also have to make tackles and free up the linebackers to make tackles and pressure the quarterback.”
Wilson’s mirror on the opposite end is Williamson, a first-year starter who is second on the line with 39 tackles and also has one fumble recovery.
“Wyatt has been a great addition,” Lucas said.
Inside, Bradford is a space-eater and a regular double-team drawer who has 29 tackles this season.
“Mark is a cork,” Williamson said. “He’s a big, fast cork because he does what corks do, he plugs stuff up.”
Meanwhile Cardwell, a backup fullback for the Titans, has thrived in his first year on the defensive line, recording 31 tackles and forcing one fumble.
“It’s about the same. I’m still hitting people,” Cardwell said of how his new defensive role compares to his offensive role. “This is more fun, though.”
Although the quintet is fun-loving off the field – all are fairly easy-smiling and jovial – the group is all business on it. When asked to describe the ideal defensive lineman Bradford, a teddy bear off the field, uses words like “mean,” “nasty” and “physical.”
That group is a big reason why the Titans rank third in 4A in scoring defense (13.5 points per game) and ninth in both rushing defense (allowing 140 yards per game) and passing defense (108 ypg).
“As a coach you dream to have a defensive line like that,” Lucas said.
And as a middle linebacker too.
“It makes my job a lot easier. They clog a lot of stuff up in the middle for me,” said senior middle linebacker Masai Whyte, who has a team-high 144 tackles this season. “Our d-line helps me because they create gaps. They keep the guards and tackles off me.”
Said Lucas: “I think our linebacking play has been exceptional this year, and if they have anybody to thank for that, it’s the defensive line. I attribute a lot of that to our defensive line.”
Lucas also attributes most of the Titans’ takeaways, both directly (through forced fumbles, recovered fumbles or Wilson’s interception against Atherton) and indirectly (pressuring opposing quarterbacks into bad throws or reads that lead to interceptions) to his D-line.
“You can win a lot of football games when you control the line of scrimmage,” said Lucas, who said he is hoping his team can do just that tonight.