On the heels of my top 10 Tiger football individual offensive performances column last week, it’s time to turn my focus to the other side of the ball.
As I did with the offensive list, I need to mention statistical production is the primary consideration with minimal emphasis on strength of opponent. Obviously it’s easier to pile up defensive stats against poor offenses, but only four performances in the top 10 came against some of the weaker teams the Tigers played.
Also, I limited each player to two appearances in the top 10 – giving them an honorable mention as well if they had other showings close to making the cut. While this list didn’t have as much player overlap as the offensive top 10, this is still a good guideline to go by to give it some variety.
Unlike my personal stats taken for the offensive Tigers, my defensive stats from the season weren’t nearly as accurate or comprehensive. On that note, I turned entirely to stats taken from the tackle chart provided by defensive coordinator Todd Swearengin.
With that being said, I didn’t realize how good some of these defensive performances were on game night and so I didn’t give many of them the credit they deserved until now. That’s why some of these entries won’t have postgame quotes or specific plays highlighted.
And now that those details have been addressed, let’s check out the best Tiger defenders had to offer in 2012.
10. Hayden Holder vs. Stephenville
The sophomore played arguably his best defensive game against the top team Glen Rose faced by far. In addition to his 12 tackles – 10 solo, Holder forced a fumble in the second half that was recovered by a teammate for the lone Stephenville turnover.
“We talked at halftime that we thought we could force some fumbles with the way they were carrying the ball; it happened,” Swearengin said. “Holder continues to grow as a (young) player.”
That play enabled the Tigers to get within three yards of taking a fourth-quarter lead in Stephenville and made it arguably one of the three most difficult games of the season for the eventual 3A Div. I state champs.
9. Jed Bridges vs. Carrolton Ranchview
Against a terrible opponent, the junior did a nice job to open his season with 11 tackles – seven solo, two tackles for loss and a fumble recovery.
“We were a little shorthanded at linebacker, but Jed was one of the guys who played every snap defensively and he came up big,” Swearengin said.
The fumble recovery actually came on kick return, as Bridges pounced on the pigskin and gave his team possession at the Ranchview 43 to set up a 14-0 lead.
Bridges had multiple honorable mention candidates, but I went with his performance against Stephenville when he made 15 tackles – 10 solo. I didn’t realize at the time how productive he’d been, so here’s hoping crediting Bridges now is better late than never.
8. Jed Bridges vs. Mineral Wells
When Tiger football headed to Mineral Wells in September, Bridges was ready to play with 13 tackles – nine solo, and three tackles for loss.
“We’ve been doing a lot better job (of) tackling and wrapping up,” Bridges said. “Everybody started out in a good way (in this game).”
After a teammate’s sack killed the first opposing drive, a tackle for loss by Bridges stopped Mineral Wells on its second possession. Bridges struck again on the third Ram drive with a tackle for loss to keep the hosts in check.
7. Senovio Delagarza vs. Graham
While his team faced its greatest adversity of the season in Springtown during this playoff matchup, Delagarza stood strong and played some of his best football. The junior tallied 13 tackles – 11 solo, but also managed to block a punt that led to a much-needed non-offensive touchdown for the Tigers in the fourth quarter.
Unfortunately, nobody at the time – except maybe Delagarza – realized he’d blocked the punt, as evidenced by my description and coach Tommy Dunn’s quote: After the ball was punted into a Steer offensive lineman and ricocheted into the end zone, Jared Thames pounced on the pigskin for a touchdown.
“We tried to block that and get good field position, but however it happened Jared is going to play hard until the end and he was able to make a good play there,” Dunn said.
I’m a month late, but congrats to Delagarza for a fine postseason effort.
6. Kevin Uehlein vs. Graham
As I looked back through the game stat logs, I realized how productive Uehlein had been in his junior campaign. When the Tigers took on Graham, he was a tackling machine with 15 takedowns – 13 solo. As best I can tell, those 13 solo tackles were the best by any Tiger this season.
Unfortunately, much like the previous entry I had no idea after the game how well Uehlein had done. At least I get this chance to bring attention to his effort.
In regard to an honorable mention, I point to Uehlein’s performance against China Spring when he had nine tackles – six solo, and an interception. No Tiger who intercepted a pass this season finished that game with as many tackles.
After China Spring had recovered a Tiger fumble early in the second half, Uehlein intercepted a pass on second down and returned it 16 yards to the Cougar 29.
“That’s a route they’d hit on us three times, then we talked about it at halftime and Kevin made an adjustment,” Swearengin said.
5. Ryan Lamb vs. China Spring
Lamb proved all season that he could be a successful undersized defensive end, and he was a flat-out problem for China Spring. The senior tallied seven tackles – five solo, four tackles for loss and a forced fumble.
Lamb made his first tackle for loss in the opening quarter to get started on the right foot, but his tackle for loss on the first play of a Cougar possession midway through the fourth seemed more notable.
“Lamb is very explosive off the edge and we’re trusting him more and more,” Swearengin said.
On third and fourth down from the Tiger 27 with China Spring looking to take a late fourth-quarter lead, Lamb pressured the quarterback to force incompletions on both plays.
“We just knew that we had to stop them there to win this game,” said Jared Thames, who shared the fourth-down pressure.
4. Jared Thames vs. Mineral Wells
Several Tigers really teed off against Mineral Wells and Thames made his mark that night with numerous backfield takedowns. In addition to eight tackles – seven solo, he notched three tackles for loss and two sacks.
“I thought our defense was just outstanding and I was really proud of them,” Dunn said. “Jared is a big part of that and we won the physical battle.”
Thames quickly went to work with a sack on the first Ram drive of the game and got the quarterback again in the second quarter.
For Thames’ honorable mention, I went with his game against China Spring. He notched 12 tackles – six solo, two tackles for loss and a sack.
“At halftime, the adversity just pulled us harder to come back and win,” Thames said of the game against the Cougars.
3. Senovio Delagarza vs. China Spring
The junior was a busy man against the Cougars, as he compiled 16 tackles – nine solo, as well as a tackle for loss. On the first China Spring possession, the Delagarza tackle for loss forced a punt.
“Senovio is around the ball quite a bit to make plays,” Swearengin said.
Unfortunately, I didn’t realize after the contest how strong Delagarza’s tackle production had been. I believe it was the second-highest tackle total by a Tiger in 2012.
2. Kevin Uehlein vs. Mineral Wells
Mineral Wells is surely featured in this list more often than the Rams would’ve preferred. Uehlein put together the most productive evening of tackling of any Tiger this season when he rolled up 17 tackles – nine solo, in addition to a tackle for loss.
That tackle for loss came in the opening quarter to help keep Mineral Wells off the scoreboard.
This is yet another great reason I needed to write this column, because I didn’t know that night just how busy Uehlein had been. Tackles are just too difficult to track as I try to write a play-by-play account of each game and take pictures at the same time, so Swearengin’s tackle chart deserves a tip of the cap here.
1. Jared Thames vs. Brownwood
The senior picked a great time to deliver his most dominant showing, as the Tigers needed every notable play to grind out a 14-10 playoff win. Thames erupted for 11 tackles – seven solo, three tackles for loss and two-and-a-half sacks.
“I remember (the offensive lineman I faced) from last year and I tore him up,” Thames said. “They had a bunch of big guys who weren’t bad, but they had slow feet. I used my hands to slap them aside and there I was in the backfield. We took it upon ourselves (defensively) to get it done and we played with fanatical effort.”
Dunn appreciated the beastly showing.
“Jared is one of the best defensive tackles in the state and he showed it,” the coach said.
After a Brownwood possession began at the Tiger 13 due to a turnover, a Thames tackle for loss held the Lions to a field goal. On Brownwood’s last possession of the game, a Thames third-down tackle three yards short of a first down brought about the final Brownwood punt.
“I came off my (Lion) and I saw a helmet bobbing around and thought ‘he must have the ball’,” Thames said. “(The rusher) bounced it outside and I grabbed his arm and took him down.”