Prep football: Syracuse's defense quiets opposition

Prep football • Titans have held opponents under 15 points all season.
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Syracuse • The numbers are flashy and the results have been garish. But the key to the success is anything but glitzy.

The Syracuse defensive line has used fundamental, assignment-based football to power a Titans defense that has established itself as one of the most dominant in the state.

"Our defensive philosophy is we want to play a good, sound base defense rather than running around and sending people here and there," Syracuse Coach Russ Jones said. "We just want everybody to be good, basic, fundamentally sound — know your gaps, know your responsibility."

That strategy has worked nearly flawlessly for the undefeated Titans, who are giving up fewer than 8 points a game and didn't give up more than 14 in any contest. And it all starts with the defensive line.

Powered by Cardon Malan and Jace Purser at the end positions, and Kaden Craig, Caden Call and Braiden Tovey on the interior, the line has been relentless in pressuring the quarterback and stuffing the run.

Purser and Malan have seven sacks apiece, while Craig has added 3 1/2 sacks and leads the team in tackles.

"We take pride in it," Malan said. "We just all do our jobs, and we're coached well. Our defensive coaches are really good."

Jones also credits Syracuse's assistant coaches for the line's success and for getting more out of the sum of the parts than the individual parts could provide.

"The coaching staff, I think, has just taken ordinary kids and gotten them to raise their level," Jones said.

Still, it would be wrong to discount the work of the players, who have been fueled by last year's heartbreaking loss to Fremont in the state semifinals.

"I think the kids really worked hard in the offseason," Jones said. "Ever since we finished our run last year to the semis, our kids have really bought in and taken things serious."

The line's dominance has had a ripple effect on the rest of the defense. By getting consistent pressure in the backfield and being effective against the run, the line has taken pressure off the linebacking corps and secondary.

"Getting pressure on the quarterback definitely helps our secondary and our linebackers," Malan said. "But they still have to do their jobs and help us out, too."

That the defensive line has been so good this season is somewhat surprising, given it lost all-state end Hunter Dimick to graduation after last season. Dimick, now at Utah, led the state in sacks last season, which left a void the Titans have had to team up to fill.

"Maybe as a whole, they might be better [this season]," Jones said. "They've really worked to get there."

The Titans know their work isn't done. Though they've gotten this far, they're four wins away from a state championship, a goal that appears in reach for the Titans, the lone unbeaten team in Class 5A.

"We treat every game the same, but I think we have a big target since we're the only undefeated team in 5A," Malan said. "I'd definitely say we have some pressure on us."

Pressure or not, the Titans insist they're ready for Viewmont on Friday in the first playoff game hosted at Syracuse since 2009.

"The kids are excited about the playoffs and ready to go," Jones said. "We're optimistic about where we're going to go and what we want to try and accomplish."