By GREG MENGELT
During the summer, Jason Hawkins was couldn’t figure out what was wrong with his vaunted offense.
Charlestown returned all 11 starters, including All-State quarterback candidate Aaron Daniel and bruising runner Seth McCutchen, from a team that scored 41 points per game and helped the Pirates to eight wins a year ago.
It was frustrating, he said, trying to figure out why his offense couldn’t get by the front seven of his defense.
“I was worried in the summer,” he said. “Offensively, we didn’t look very good. I didn’t understand what was going on. But what was going on was that our defense was like the ‘85 Bears. That’s what the problem was.”
Defensive linemen Adam Hoff, Desmond Wiley, Jimmy Garcia and linebackers Matt Myers, Jake Harper, Cole Nokes and Darren Taylor — along with McCutchen — haven’t slowed down during the fall.
The Pirate defensive front has been nearly impenetrable, surrendering only three first-quarter points and 16 first-half points in the first 12 games of an unbeaten season to date.
“They’re big and fast and they get to the football well,” Hawkins said of his front seven. “They play with an attitude. They all want to lead the team in tackles and that makes them all want to be the first person to the ball. We have seven kids fighting each other to make the tackle.”
With a combined 314 tackles, Harper and Myers lead an run defense that has surrendered just two first-half offensive touchdownthis season.
“We fly to the ball as a team,” Taylor explained.
When teams have been forced to throw, Wiley, Garcia and Hoff have made opposing quarterbacks’ lives miserable.
Charlestown has an astonishing 52 quarterback sacks this season, led by Wiley’s 14 and Gracia’s nine.
“I like to get to the quarterback,” said Wiley, who has an additional 29 tackles for loss and a 71-yard interception return for a touchdown this season. “I don’t know why, I just don’t like quarterbacks.”
So what do the Pirates do better — stop the run or rush the quarterback?
Hawkins said his defense gets after opposing quarterbacks better than any team he’s ever coached, but he said, “We haven’t seen a team that can run the ball on us yet.”
Despite the crazy numbers of the defense, it has been the offense that has gotten most of the attention and most of the News and Tribune headlines.
Charlestown’s offense has scored 720 points and with another win or two could become the highest-scoring team in Indiana history.
The defensive players — most of which are underclassmen — said there’s no jealousy toward the Pirate offense.
“We knew from the start the offense was going to be good,” Taylor said. “We just had to live up to their expectations.”
“I don’t think there’s any resentment,” Hawkins said. “I haven’t seen any resentment on this team at any time throughout the year. They all have the same goal and they understand that they’re helping each other.”
In fact, the Charlestown defenders believe playing against the Pirate offense on a daily basis has helped them grow as unit.
“We’ve gotten a lot better playing against them [in practice],” Taylor said.
“We haven’t seen an offense as good as ours [in a game] yet. Nowhere near,” Myers said. “We’ve gotten a whole lot better going against them.”
The offense and the defense will try to work together to lead the Pirates to their first regional championship since 1989 when they face Gibson Southern at home on Friday. A win would put Charlestown one victory away from the state championship game.
“We all work as a system, as a team,” Wiley said of the offense and the defense. “If they’re shining, that means we’re shining. We wouldn’t win games without them. We wouldn’t win championships without each other.”