White Oak’s Playmaking Defense Carrying Roughnecks Into State Semifinals
WHITE OAK -- Championship success is nothing new to the town of White Oak.
Its boys basketball team has captured the last two Class 2A state titles and the volleyball program has reached the state tournament five times since 2007.
But both have taken a backseat this fall to the football program, which is enjoying its longest playoff run since 1970.
"We've always been known as a tradition-school," said White Oak junior safety Jake Pullen. "Right now, we're changing the culture."
White Oak (13-1), winners of eight consecutive games, faces defending state champion Cameron Yoe (13-1) on Friday night in Allen in one 2A Division I state semifinal. A White Oak win would punch a ticket to the state title game -- scheduled for 5 p.m., Dec. 19 from AT&T Stadium in Arlington -- for the just the second time in school history.
In a day age where offensive numbers attract most of the attention, the White Oak defense has been making headlines of its own. For the season, the Roughnecks allow just 12.9 points per game and are coming off a 31-0 shutout of state-ranked and previously-unbeaten Franklin last week.
During the playoffs, White Oak's defense has matched up against some of the top offenses in 2A. Grandview entered the area round averaging 54 points per game, and White Oak surrendered just 14. A week later against second-ranked Newton -- the defending regional champion -- White Oak did allow 36 points, but that was roughly half of what Newton scored in a 74-21 win the week before. And in last week's shutout, the Roughnecks held a Franklin team averaging over 48 points per game out of the end zone altogether.
"The biggest thing is that we've created turnovers in all three of those games," said third-year White Oak coach Gerry Stanford. "We created two turnovers against Newton, had four against Grandview and five against Franklin. And a lot times those are 14-point swings."
While White Oak's offense has put up impressive numbers in its own right, the Roughnecks' defense has been the backbone all season and especially in the playoffs. Besides Newton, the only other team to score more than 20 points on White Oak this year was Tatum, which is responsible for the Roughnecks' only loss.
"In the regular-season you're kinda working things out, but in the playoffs you've got to be able to do two things: No. 1, play great defense and No. 2, run the football," Stanford said. "And it all starts with our defense being able to make stops to get our offense back on the field."
Pullen anchors the defense. He leads White Oak in tackles with 200 and is coming off 31- and 29-tackle performances in the playoff wins over Newton and Franklin.
"Jake is one of two junior starters for us," Stanford said. "He started last year from about Week 9 on and got to experience three or four games going into his junior year. It kinda got him ready for Friday night lights and playing against really good teams. Going into the year, we put a lot of pressure on Jake. He makes all the calls for our defense, comes and fills the alley against the run and the pass. He's just a solid player overall and our leader on defense; he's having a phenomenal year."
In addition to his gaudy tackle totals, Pullen has four forced fumbles, two interceptions and nine pass break-ups.
"I'm just reading the line really well," Pullen said. "And watching the film, studying and knowing what to do in situations."
White Oak allowed a respectable 23.8 points per game a season ago, but this year's unit has almost cut that number in half. The defenders also have a firm grasp on their importance to the group.
"We come to practice knowing that if our defense doesn't work good, then the whole thing's not going to work good," said White Oak senior defensive lineman Kris Layman. "We just go out there every day, work hard and do what we have to do to win."
Like most standout defenses, everything begins with the men up front.
"Our defensive line does such a great job of controlling the line and allowing our linebackers and secondary players to fill in and make plays," Stanford said. "That's kinda what we've done all year, and this week we're probably going to have to have it two-fold to be able to handle the offense of Cameron Yoe."
Yoe's offense is not only explosive, but extremely balanced. The Yoeman feature a 2,800-yard passer with a 45-5 touchdown-to-interception ratio and a 2,000-yard rusher with 24 touchdowns on the year.
"The biggest thing is Jason Kopriva, who is a three-year starter at quarterback for them. Any time you have three-year starter at quarterback, you know he's battle-tested. He's their leader on offense and everything starts with him. Then, you've got Traion Smith -- a sophomore running back with over 2,000 yards. And also (Aaron Sims) and (Colton Shuffield), who are two great receivers. Between those four guys, that's about 90 percent of their offense. They've all got great speed and can keep you off-balance."
Pullen may have said it best: "It's our defense and against their offense."