By Ryan Costello, Staff Writer
Enid News and Eagle
HENNESSEY, Okla. —
Around halfway through Hennessey’s 2013 football season, Eagles head coach Rick Luetjen had a challenge for his defense.
By then, Hennessey already was down a pair of two-way starters in quarterback/linebacker Dylan Hatchel and slot receiver/defensive back Steven Lott, both out for their senior seasons with injuries. A game later — and just one play into it — the Eagles lost another senior starter when running back William Arndt broke his leg against Pawnee, and Hennessey’s title-hopeful team suddenly was scrambling to keep those aspirations kicking.
The injury replacements have since performed admirably, but the first group Luetjen looked to was Hennessey’s veteran-laden defense.
“We talked about it about halfway through the season after we started losing some players,” Luetjen said this week. “The defense needed to step up for us. If we were gonna be able to make a run in the playoffs, we needed to be really focused on our defense every week.”
“I felt like we needed to step up more,” said senior linebacker Carlos Torres. “The veterans were on the defense. That’s what we needed to do: step up and stop people. Did we answer (Luetjen’s challenge)? I think so. We came out with a punch.”
Boy, did they.
Hennessey has held opponents to less than a touchdown per game since the half-pole pep talk. Pawnee, and then-playoff hopeful Newkirk, were held without a point.
In the regular-season finale against Alva and its college-worthy QB Ty Hooper and towering-but-swift receiver Riley Hess providing the bulk of a 35-point a game offense, Hennessey’s defense prevailed again, stringing together enough stops to seal a 20-12 win and a third consecutive 2A-1 title.
And that call to arms absolutely had something to do with it.
“It gives you something in your head to keep you going,” Torres said.
Next in the way of Hennessey’s streaking defense is one of 2A’s hottest offenses.
The Crooked Oak Ruf-Nex (6-4, 3-3 2A-2), Hennessey’s first-round opponent at 7:30 p.m. tonight, earned district 2A-2’s fourth seed almost solely behind Class 2A’s 10th-best offense (37.9 points per game). In their last three, the Ruf-Nex and their flexbone offense have averaged almost 50 points per contest.
“They put a bunch of really good athletes out on the field that have a lot of speed,” Luetjen said. “It’s gonna be important for our defense to contain that speed. Once they get out into the open, they’re gonna be pretty tough to catch or stop.”
It wasn’t too tough last season, when Hennessey also hosted Crooked Oak in the postseason’s opening round and coasted into the second with a 54-7 win. But things have changed, Luetjen said. That fast team from 2012 has only gotten faster.
“It’s pretty impressive the jump they’ve made from last year to this year,” Luetjen said.
“We don’t have that type of speed, and they’re really fast,” said Torres, the Eagles’ third busiest tackler with 61. “If they get around us, they have the upper hand.”
Still, if Hennessey has lost ground to the Ruf-Nex at all in the offseason, it’s not due to any dropoff on the Eagles’ end.
“If the gap’s closed any, it’s been more them getting better than us dropping off or anything,” Luetjen said. “I feel like we’re playing as good of football right now as we’ve played (this season).”ꆱ