Sack-happy defense headlines Paetow’s dominance

Sack-happy defense headlines Paetow's dominance (Copyright (c) 2021 VYPE - All rights reserved)

KATY—Running scout team defense for Paetow at the beginning of the 2020 season, then-sophomore junior varsity linebacker Daymion Sanford was causing problems.

"We keep watching the film, and our 1's (starters) can't block him," coach B.J. Gotte said. "So then we're thinking, yeah, we might want to put him on the varsity. If we can't block him, other teams can't block him."

Gotte and his staff proved prophetic in their evaluation of Sanford.

"We moved him up after a couple games in and he started making plays," Gotte said. "That's how we broke in to what we're doing."

What Sanford, now a junior, and Alex Kilgore, another sophomore revelation at linebacker on varsity last season, are now doing is ignite a sack-loving Panthers defense that is the motor behind an 11-1 Panthers team in the regional semifinal for the first time.

Paetow plays Cedar Park on Friday afternoon in Waller.

"It's been fun," Sanford said. "Right now, there's a lot of trust and a lot of chemistry on this team. It's real."

For those still blissfully unaware of Paetow football—let alone how to properly pronounce the school name: it's "Pay-toe"— it's as simple as this: Gotte knew the defense would be the strength of this year's team. And the defense is led by senior defensive back Kentrell Webb, outside linebacker Sanford and inside linebacker Kilgore.

Paetow has 53 sacks through 12 games, an average of 4.4 per game. The 6-foot-2, 190-pound Sanford (13.0) and 6-foot-1, 205-pound Kilgore (10.0) have accounted for 23 of those.

"They're more experienced, and you can't measure experience," Gotte said. "Both of those guys being sophomores on varsity last year, they had to take their lumps. Now, being one year in, they're more confident in what they do in our base packages, which then allows us to do more of our specialty stuff.

"Do we do more than what we did last year? A little bit, but I think it's more due to the experience of those guys in our base stuff, and now we can put in some wrinkles to get some pass rush."

Paetow runs a 3-4 base defense. Often, however, it morphs into a four-man front after the snap, essentially becoming an offset 4-2-5 alignment because of a penchant for nickel packages.

"I love it," Kilgore said. "We know we're confusing the offense, and that's our advantage. We know our talent. We know our ability. So not only are we confusing the offense, but we're doing it with talent. It takes us one step further."

Paetow allows just 10.3 points per game and has five shutouts this season. In the regular season, competing in one of the toughest districts in the state that includes fellow regional semifinalists Hightower and Manvel, Paetow gave up a total of 270 rushing yards in 10 games.

"It's building with the brothers," said Kilgore, who leads the team in tackles per game at 6.5. "Knowing what the person is doing next to you and doing your job to your best ability. It's practice. Going 100 percent every day, not taking a day off, not taking a rep off."

Webb, with a team-high six interceptions, is the maestro of the Panthers' defensive backfield. Sanford and Kilgore attack at will. The defensive line, led by senior Jacob Johnson, sophomore Loghan Thomas, and senior Sultan Bakare, plugs gaps, draws double teams, and does whatever else necessary for everything to flow.

"If everybody does their job, then people will have opportunities to make plays," Gotte said. "That's where they (Sanford and Kilgore) do a good job rushing the passer, but the defensive lineman is rushing a gap that is drawing two and opens up space for the linebacker to run through. Or a defensive end rushes off the edge, which pulls a guard over and then allows a one-on-one on the inside. Ultimately, you've got to create one-on-ones and draw double teams that will open up holes.

"Working together, playing fast and not trying to do too much to give someone an opportunity."

Kilgore and Sanford not only understand their own positions and responsibilities better this season, but those of others. Because of their maturity and football I.Q., Paetow uses more exotic blitzes and coverages.

"Playing against the best defense in our state, really, it's a great tool to have, going up against tough looks every day in practice," senior quarterback C.J. Dumas said. "It only makes us better. Back in spring ball, it was super frustrating because we couldn't get anything going. But it's a good problem to have, struggling in practice and then playing the games and everything seems to be moving slower."

The overall depth of the defense is also notable. The Panthers use 15-18 players consistently on defense during any given game.

The emergence of senior linebacker Luke Fitch has been significant, allowing the 6-foot, 225-pound Bakare to move from linebacker to the defensive line. Junior C.J. Johnson has been big in the secondary. Junior Stephen Green has played admirably on the line. Senior Matthew Phillips is another linebacker that makes game-changing plays.

It is a complete defense.

“Playing nickel, playing fast, having different calls, mixing things up on the fly,” Sanford said. “It’s fun to mess around with an offense during games and dominating them with what we’re able to do.”