If each game in the playoffs can be viewed as a hurdle, then Hilldale's defense cleared a big one last week in the first round of the Class 3A tournament.
Hilldale successfully limited Checotah quarterback Tyler Addy to a season-low 134 yards passing in the 35-0 victory. He also had a season-high three interceptions in completing 16 of 38 passes.
Now comes an even bigger obstacle.
Tanner Smith leads the Verdigris Cardinals into Friday’s second-round game at Hornet Field with his 2,178 yards rushing and 31 touchdowns. He’s averaging 8.38 yards per carry and 198.0 yards per game for the 10-1 team that was ranked No. 3 in the final Associated Press poll.
“Verdigris is the total opposite of Checotah,” Hilldale coach Chad Kirkhart said. “Checotah liked to throw it a bunch, but Verdigris wants to run it about every down. They’re going to be a physical running team.
“(Smith) is a good all-around back and he’s also the type that he’s also going to try to make you miss when he runs.”
The 5-foot-11, 210-pound senior scored six touchdowns in the 50-6 victory against Morris last week.
Travis Bryant, the Hornets’ defensive coordinator, watched Smith play in the regular season finale against Sperry. He’s impressed.
“He’s good back who runs hard,” Bryant said. “They’re also big up front. They’ll be a good challenge for us.
“I think we’ve been good against the run this season. We run a 3-4 defense and some people think that’s good against a spread offense, but we have some things we can do against the run.”
Bryant has been especially pleased with his defense this season, which lines up one player – senior linebacker Josh Giem – at more than 200 pounds.
“We went with a little different approach this year,” Bryant said. “We went with smaller, faster guys. So far, that’s paid off for us. We may get outmanned physically at times but our quickness wears on the other team in the game.
“Jamaul (Cullom) also plays linebacker and he’s a physical kid. We’ve got the right guys for our defense.”
The Hornets’ defense is a little banged up right now. Defensive back Richard Mabery is expected back this week after sitting out a week with a sprained knee. Middle linebacker Jake Adams is out for the season with a torn ACL
Hunter Olson has filled in at linebacker and Matt Bargsten intercepted an Addy pass in the secondary for the Hornets (10-1).
“Those are good, tough kids who have done a good job for us,” Bryant said.
Bryant looks for the defense to play well again.
“Our defense understands where it’s supposed to be and what they’re supposed to do,” he said. “It’s worked out well for us so far. Hopefully, it will continue to work out for us.”