Nacogdoches’ Defense Holds Key In Pivotal Game Against Ennis
Nacogdoches Dragons (4-4, 1-2)
Ennis Lions (5-3, 2-1)
7:30 p.m. Friday
Lion Memorial Stadium, Ennis
- Nacogdoches: Bobby Reyes
- Ennis: Jack Alvarez
- Nacogdoches: vs. Jacksonville, Nov. 4
- Ennis: at Corsicana, Nov. 4
- S/WR Josh Thompson, Sr., 6-0, 190 (13 catches, 198 yards, 4 TDs; 56 tackles, 9 for loss, 1 INT, 4 PBUs, 2 forced fumbles, 4 recoveries; committed to Texas)
- RB Phillip Jones, Sr., 5-9, 193 (243 carries, 1,493 yards, 12 TDs)
- WR Jaylon Maxie, Sr., 5-11, 180 (19 catches, 250 yards, 2 TDs)
- LB DaRyan Williams, Jr., 5-11, 185 (55 tackles, 7 for loss, 1 sack, 1 INT, 5 PBUs, 3 forced fumbles, 2 recoveries)
- QB Noah Hildebrand, Sr., 6-1, 180 (113 of 205, 1,403 yards, 12 TDs, 4 INTs; 35 carries, 95 yards, 1 TD)
- DT Devaunte Johnson, Sr., 6-0, 265 (61 tackles, 13 for loss, 5 sacks, 10 QB pressures, 1 PBU)
- DE Brad Phillips, Sr., 6-3, 210 (42 tackles, 5 for loss, 3 sacks, 14 QB pressures, 5 PBUs, 1 fumble recovery, 1 blocked punt)
- WR Jed Morgan, Jr., 5-8, 155 (34 catches, 366 yards, 4 TDs)
- RB Tycen Thompson, Jr., 5-9, 170 (132 carries, 1,010 yards, 7 TDs; 25 catches, 233 yards, 1 TD)
- RB Kyre Holloway, Jr., 6-0, 190 (104 carries, 910 yards, 9 TDs; 4 catches, 35 yards, 1 TD)
- WR JT Mackey, Sr., 6-3, 195 (19 catches, 433 yards, 3 TDs)
- QB Kademon Graff, Jr., 5-9, 150 (72 of 144, 899 yards, 10 TDs, 4 INTs)
- LB Brandon Bata, Sr., 5-10, 185 (54 tackles, 4 for loss, 2 sacks, 2 QB pressures, 1 forced fumble, 1 recovery, 2 INTs)
- DB Kevion Gabriel, Jr., 5-10, 180 (24 tackles, 2 for loss, 3 INTs, 2 PBUs)
- DB Chris McDonald, Jr., 6-2, 185 (31 tackles, 2 for loss, 1 sack, 4 QB pressures, 2 INTs, 1 fumble recovery)
- DT Jaylan Hill, Sr., 6-2, 275 (18 tackles, 4 for loss, 2 sacks, 5 QB pressures, 1 forced fumble)
Just the facts
- Friday's game will go a long way toward determining which District 17-5A teams will move on to the playoffs and which teams stay home.
- Ennis is currently tied for second place in the league standings with Jacksonville, but Jacksonville holds the tiebreaker. Nacogdoches is in a tie with Whitehouse for third place in the district, but Whitehouse owns the tiebreaker.
- Therefore, consider Ennis the third-place team and Nacogdoches the fifth-place team in the standings.
- Ennis will definitely clinch a playoff berth Friday if it beats Nacogdoches and if Lindale can get its first league win simultaneously against Jacksonville.
- Nacogdoches would do itself a great service by winning because Whitehouse has a marginally unfavorable game at home against league-leading Corsicana.
- The district has great parity. Five of the six teams have point differentials that range from plus-nine points and minus-eight points against district competition.
- Ennis has outscored district opponents by eight points and Nacogdoches has scored one more point than its combined district competition.
- Nacogdoches running back Phillip Jones is East Texas' third-leading rusher with 1,493 yards. He averages 6.1 yards per touch.
- The Dragons will travel 147 miles to Ennis. That will be the longest inter-district trip of any District 17-5A team this season.
Key matchup: Nacogdoches' defense versus Ennis' T-formation offense.
Ennis rode its offense to a state championship just two years ago, and its formations are a big reason why district opponents have only managed to hang 34 points on the team at worst and 21 points at best this season.
Jack Alvarez's squad tries to retain possession for as long as possible.
It also benefits from the confusion it causes opposing defenses. Ennis is the only team in District 17-5A that does not operate out of the shotgun with frequency.
The confusion Ennis' offense creates is based on the spacing of its backfield. The quarterback and three running backs are packed in pretty tight, and it's hard for defenses to see which player is getting the ball with all the movement in addition to six blockers standing up and coming forward.
Nacogdoches does have some strengths in this particular matchup.
Head coach Bobby Reyes is very happy with his defensive line, especially compared to last year's team.
Defensive end Brad Phillips and all-around defensive lineman Devaunte Johnson are imposing players. If Johnson plays at end, the Dragons are in strong position to contain the plays Ennis runs off-tackle.
If Johnson plays a defensive tackle position, Nacogdoches should consistently win at least one battle against Ennis' interior line. And he just might be plugging the hole Ennis wants to run through.
But Ennis really thrives once it hits the second of three levels of the defense, the linebackers' domain. They consistently reach that layer of the defense and have plenty of athletes that can shake would-be tacklers and advance to the defensive backs' territory.
At the linebackers level, Nacogdoches possesses DaRyan Williams. He's one of the region's best juniors regardless of position.
Of course, if Ennis advances past the linebackers, senior Texas commitment Josh Thompson is the last line of defense at safety. He's a blue-chip recruit -- the Dragons' third in three years -- and probably will ensure Ennis has to run extra plays to hit the end zone.
In those extra plays is where Nacogdoches could capitalize on a big defensive play or an Ennis miscue.
The Dragons will have to be wary of Ennis' passing game. It catches defenses off guard because it generates 71 percent of its yardage on the ground, but quarterback Kademon Graff has completed 50 percent of his throws for about 900 yards with 10 touchdowns to four interceptions.
Don't be surprised if: Nacogdoches plays aggressively on offense until it establishes a two-possession lead.
Ennis' offense takes time to succeed drive-to-drive if it plays a competent defense. If the Dragons have the ball and own a lead ranging from three to seven points, don't be surprised to see them take a chance on fourth down to extend what they hope will be another successful scoring drive.
Run-heavy teams aren't very good at playing from behind. The clock becomes a big enemy.