, Muskogee, OK

November 27, 2013

Hornets defense faces another test

Hilldale on a roll but so is Seminole’s 2,800-yard ball carrier

By Mike Kays
Phoenix Sports Editor

— Big Papi had his October. For Hilldale, it’s keeping Little Papi from having his November.

There’s no relation between Boston Red Sox slugger David Ortiz, otherwise known as “Big Papi” and Seminole running back Papi White, who doesn’t employ “little” in any nickname but for all practical purposes, might as well. He’s 5-foot-9 and 160 pounds.

Ortiz won a World Series championship and White is aiming for a Class 3A state title ring. He’s a big part of what the third-ranked Chieftains — who at 12-0 and District 3A-2 champions visit 10th-ranked Hilldale (10-2) on Friday for a quarterfinal matchup — hang their hopes on.

White leads the state in rushing with 2,813 yards, a clip of 234.4 per game and 14.6 per carry, and has scored 35 touchdowns.

“I’ve been here 42 years and I get asked a lot of times who the best kid is that’s ever played here,” said Seminole coach Mike Snyder. “I’m not sure he’s not. Great strength, hits the holes and his vision of the field is probably as good as anyone we’ve had.”

For the Hilldale defense, which came up big in last week’s 14-12 win against Metro Christian, it’s an even bigger challenge than limiting the pass-happy Patriots offense which, like Hilldale’s aerial game, had to battle the freezing conditions as well as each other’s defenders.

“He’s probably one of the best running backs in Oklahoma football,” said Hornets linebacker Jake Leybas, whose first-half interception at his team’s 13-yard line came one play after a Hornets fumble. It kept Metro Christian from possibly going up two touchdowns and set up Hilldale’s first touchdown, one that would keep them in front from that point on.”

It’s up to Hilldale defensive coordinator Ryan Keenom to come up with another successful game plan.

“Immediately when you turn on Seminole film Papi stands out. He makes people look stupid trying to tackle him,” Keenom said.

Keenom compared him to Wagoner’s Lawrence Evitt, who Hilldale contained in a preseason scrimmage coming off a year where he was just shy of 3,000 rushing yards. Evitt has 2,400 this season.

“I actually think Papi might be tougher to tackle, maybe not be as fast but he has some of the best moves I’ve seen in a high school running back,” Keenom said.

But much of that is helped by the guys up front, he said.

“The offensive line is coached really well,” Keenom said. “They seem to know who to block and they do a good job of getting on those guys and finishing blocks.

“It’s a senior heavy group that we’re playing against. They are probably the best OL as a whole I’ve seen in my two years I’ve been here. You throw in the two tight ends they have in the mix that are just like two extra offensive linemen in the way they block. They’ll challenge you physically every play. You get high on the defensive line or don’t come off low, they’re going to pancake you.”

As intimidating as it may seem, he’s reminded of what his defense has done. Evitt’s line was still trying to find its footing in August, but the Hornets have come up with solutions all season.

“Last week I thought was the best we’ve played as a defense for four quarters,” Keenom said. “They fought every snap, knew where there assignments were and went out and executed them. It would have been really easy to lay down after they scored and then got a turnover but we got one back.”

Now comes another challenge.

“We’ve got to gang tackle and wrap him up and get him before he gets going,” he said. “We’ll give him a good share of attention but you can’t ignore their quarterback (Doc Harvey, a junior with 868 rushing and 1,453 yards passing). He can also run and doesn’t throw it a ton but when they do they’ll get your safety to cheat toward the line and take shots.”

 While having his share of respect for White, Leybas is confident the Hornets can rise to the occasion.

“We’ve got a couple of new formations and I think we’re going to be able to shut it down this week,” he said. “Their offensive line is one of the biggest we’ve faced and they’re aggressive but our defensive ends and inside backers can handle it.”

Said Hilldale coach Chad Kirkhart: “You prepare for these things every week — not that it’s always that drastic but the No. 1 objective week in, week out is you stop the run, then you stop the pass. We’ve played pretty good defense all year long so there’s no reason to think we can’t continue that.

“At this point it’s the playoffs so you expect to face offenses that perform in those aspects at a high level.”