West defense stands tall again, stifles Powell

Junior defensive tackle Cyrus Howell sacks Powell quarterback Walker Trusley during the Rebels' 28-6 victory over the Panthers on Friday, Oct. 6. (Image: Travis Haston / 865 Preps)

West High School’s defense is not lacking any confidence.

Just ask Zach Stokes.

“We’re like Alabama’s defense,” the senior nose guard told 865 Preps. “That’s how good our defense is. Our front seven is going to shut people down and we’re going to force you to throw it. If you can’t throw it on us, tough luck.”

It is a bold statement, but the Rebels have performed like an elite defense this season. That did not change on Friday, as they stifled Powell’s offense en route to a 28-6 victory.

West (5-3, 3-1 Region 3-5A) limited the Panthers (5-3, 2-3) to 161 yards of total offense — 147 of which came on their final two possessions of the game. Powell did not collect a first down until there was five minutes, 31 seconds remaining in the first half and registered -4 yards in the opening half.

“They give relentless effort and they love playing this game,” first-year head coach Lamar Brown said. “They’re preparation is big time, and a lot of that credit goes to our coaching staff, but the kids come out and execute the game plan.”

The Rebels’ offense also struggled to get anything going, but they took advantage of good field position set up by special teams play to jump ahead.

A muffed punt set up their first score of the game, a four-yard touchdown run by senior running back Preston Wardell, and partially blocked punt led to a 15-yard connection between senior quarterback Myles Everson and Daniel Leadbetter to make it 14-0.

Wide receiver Daniel Leadbetter lunges toward the end zone to complete a 15-yard score between him and senior quarterback Myles Everson during the Rebels’ 28-6 victory over the Panthers on Friday, Oct. 6. (Image: Travis Haston / 865 Preps)

Wardell’s second touchdown run gave the Rebels a 21-0 lead, and two plays later sophomore linebacker Drew Francis stepped in front of a Walker Trusley pass and returned it for a touchdown in the final moments of the first half.

It proved to be more than enough.

“Right now, our goal offensively is to get somewhere around 20 points a game,” Brown said. “If we can get that somehow, some way as a football team, we feel like we have a great chance to win.

“When we get up more than one score, it puts a lot of pressure on the opposing offense and that’s where we thrive.”

Powell’s first three possessions in the second half resulted in just 17 yards before Riley Bryant hauled in a screen pass from Trusley and scampered 86 yards to avoid a shutout.

Stokes took responsibility for the lone score against the Rebels, stating that he made a read to early, opening a lane for Bryant to pull away.

“We want to be the best defense in the state, so we take a lot of pride in not letting anybody score on us,” Stokes added. “In practice, any time somebody makes a big play on us, we run. That’s what it means to us.”

West is now allowing just 8.75 points per game this season with their 23-13 loss to Oak Ridge on Sept. 15 representing the most point they have surrendered.

Since that outing against the Wildcats, the Rebels have locked in, limiting Farragut to a measly 84 yards — the only touchdowns the Admirals scored came on a pair of pick-6s — and shutting out Clinton last week before dominating Powell on Friday.

The confidence of this West defense is deserved, and it has this team thinking of a deep run this season.

“This defense comes to work every day, and Friday is their pay day,” Brown said. “Given how they have played to this point, they can carry us a long way.”

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