DAINGERFIELD -- The blue script "D" on the white helmet may stand for Daingerfield, but it could just as easily mean "defense."

Daingerfield is East Texas' most storied program. Don't think so? Well, six state championship rings beg to differ. At the core of the Tigers' tradition is defense, and that's no different in 2012.

A Daingerfield helmet sits on the turf prior to the Tigers' 29-22 state semifinal win against Wall in Mansfield. (Justin Well, ETSN.fm)

Daingerfield (12-3) plays in its East Texas-leading ninth state championship at noon Friday when the Tigers face unbeaten Cameron Yoe (14-0) in the Class 2A Division I title bout at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington. The game is a rematch of the 2010 championship game in Mansfield, where Daingerfield beat Yoe 33-27 on a last-minute touchdown strike from Tyler Boyd to Keyarris Garrett.

While Aric Sardinea's specialty may be on the offensive side of the ball -- he's a former offensive coordinator at Rowlett -- the Tigers' second-year head coach hasn't cost his team any defensive intensity or production. Daingerfield has held opponents to 19.0 points per game. That number drops to 15.1 during the Tigers' nine-game winning streak.

Those kind of defensive numbers help this year's Tigers maintain the standard set by Daingerfield defenses from the past.

From 1982-89 -- an eight-year span that saw Daingerfield go 102-8-3 and win two state championships -- the Tigers allowed 7.8 points per game. The 1983 team, widely regarded as one of the best teams in state history, allowed eight points all season.

The three-peat champions from 2008-10 allowed 10.9 points per game during a 44-3 stretch. In 2009, the Tigers went 15-1 thanks in part to a defense that held opponents to 9.7 points per game.

Then there's the names: Everett, Edmond, Hurndon, Mims. And many, many others.

"It's hard to hold yourself to that type of standard year in and year out. It's hard work from two-a-days and building up during the season, and that's why we got to the point where we're at now," said senior safety Ruben Mims. "We're all different players. I go out there and do my own thing and do what I'm coached to do, have my own identity out there. Obviously I can't be exactly like those guys (from the past), but I can go out there and give my team the best of my ability to help us win and hopefully get the state championship."

 

"Obviously I can't be exactly like those guys (from the past), but I can go out there and give my team the best of my ability to help us win and hopefully get the state championship."

-- Daingerfield senior safety Ruben Mims

 

Sardinea, who has helped Daingerfield score 43.3 points per game during the nine-game winning streak, acknowledges the defense-heavy past at the Morris County school.

Daingerfield coach Aric Sardinea instructs players during two-a-days in August. (Christopher Vinn, ETSN.fm)

"Our Daingerfield tradition has been defense in the last four or five years. Then you go back and you look at what it was in the '80s, and it was defense," Sardinea said. "(Defensive coordinator Michael) Mason's done a good job of adapting to these kids and what we have talent-wise and making them adjust and put them in positions to make plays, and that's what we've done the last few weeks."

"Our kids have done a good job and they understand what that tradition meant to them when they were eighth-graders and ninth-graders because they saw those (older) kids go out and excel. They know it and they understand it. We're just going to keep that same thing going."

Daingerfield enters the 2A Division I championship game on the heals of strong defensive performances against two of the state's best running games in Wall and New Boston.

Wall entered the state semifinal against Daingerfield averaging 52.4 points per game. The Hawks ran for 511 yards in a 48-24 Region I championship rout of Eastland. Daingerfield cut that rushing total by almost 200 yards, containing the Hawks to 313 on the ground and no second-half points.

Daingerfield's Calvin Bryant (15) and Ruben Mims (24) pursue New Boston's Damien Haskins (23) during the Tigers' 35-28 fourth-round victory on Dec. 7 in Mount Pleasant. (Richard Shoemaker, ETSN.fm)

The week before, the Tigers did what nobody -- including themselves -- had done the entire season: contained New Boston's Damien Haskins. The 3,000-yard rusher, who ran for 52 touchdowns, gained a respectable 137 yards on 33 carries, but that wasn't close to the staggering 245.8 yards he averaged in 13 games this season.

Or the 393 yards and five touchdowns he dropped on Daingerfield during their District 8-2A Division I meeting in October.

"We have a lot of speed on defense. When you look at what Damien did to us the first game, he ran loose and we didn't tackle very well. We just wanted to make some adjustments and try to put our kids where they're in positions to do a better job of tackling," Sardinea said. "We contained him, and you can put that in quotes. It was 'contained,' because he still did a tremendous job.

"You go into the Wall game and they did a really good job in the first half. I think they lost their center and I think that hurt them. We made our adjustments at halftime and were fortunate enough to make some plays defensively and get some turnovers and it turned the tide of the game. That's when you start feeling that tradition, and just an excitement and the kids really responding when good things happened at that particular time. Both coaches did a really good job, from New Boston all the way out to West Texas at Wall. They did a good job of game planning us. We just had to make our adjustments, and our kids just went out and made plays."

Daingerfield's Ruben Mims chases down a Winnsboro ball carrier during the Tigers' 47-14 third-round win in Tyler. (Richard Shoemaker, ETSN.fm)

Beating elite rushing attacks hasn't been just Wall and New Boston. Daingerfield has cut a path through the 2A D-I playoffs against several almost run-exclusive teams.

The Tigers ripped Eustace 58-0 before beating Callisburg 32-21. Then came a 47-14 rout of Winnsboro.

Sardinea said the run-heavy schemes -- particularly, the Slot-T -- that the Tigers have grown accustomed to defending have influenced Daingerfield's defensive identity, which has become more of a multiple-formation scheme.

Senior linebacker Calvin Bryant leads Daingerfield with more than 160 tackles. He's played a large role in the Tigers' ability to slow down Slot-T teams, but he credited the guys playing in front of him, the defensive linemen.

"Jacolby Simpson, Dylan Williams, Traye Traylor ... they all do a good job of protecting us," said Bryant, who has a team-high 20 tackles for loss. "That's what allows us to run free and make tackles."

 

"(The defensive linemen) all do a good job of protecting us. That's what allows us to run free and make tackles."

-- Daingerfield senior linebacker Calvin Bryant

 

Mims, who has more than 80 tackles from his safety spot, said the key to the front line's success is the same thing that makes the entire defense successful.

"They do their assignments and do what they're coached to do," Mims said. "That's what all of us try to do on defense. Do what we're coached to do. The results are always pretty positive."

The Slot-T opponents are over for Daingerfield, which will see a potent spread team on the other sideline in Friday's championship.

Cameron Yoe averages better than 38 points per game. Yoe has accumulated 3,058 passing yards and 2,195 rushing yards during its perfect run through the regular season and Region IV bracket.

Perhaps the Yoemen's greatest achievement is beating Newton, a team that had not won by fewer than 23 points, by 17 in last week's state semifinal. That included 31 unanswered points after falling behind 22-8.

So how does Daingerfield change defensive gears to adjust to the spread after defending Slot-T teams?

Daingerfield's Edwin Mims (7) runs with the ball during the Tigers' 35-28 fourth-round win over New Boston in Mount Pleasant. (Richard Shoemaker, ETSN.fm)

"We haven't faced this type of spread, but our kids practice against that type of athleticism every day in practice," Sardinea said. "We feel like knowledge-wise what we faced in Wall and Winnsboro and Eustace and Callisburg, you're talking about teams that run it a lot. Well, we feel like that's made us better in run support. Passing-wise, we face our kids in (receivers) Edwin Mims and Shawn Hooks every day."

Mims and Hooks have been two of Daingerfield's top offensive playmakers, so if in-practice competition is any indication, the Tiger defense may be well prepared for Yoe's offense from an athleticism standpoint.

But there's more to it than that, and the Tigers know it. They also know the magnitude of Friday's game, something that growing up in the Daingerfield program breeds within its players.

Especially on defense.

"It's tradition. They hold us to a very high standard," Mims said. "Last year was even considered a disappointing season. We made it to the quarterfinals, so really it was pretty good. It's just the standard that we have to do this year in and year out."

That way, the "D" on the helmet maintains its meaning.