You know your defense is solid when the players on the field can correct the defensive coordinator.
“That happens every once in a while,” longtime Central Valley High School assistant coach Steve Kent laughed. “Every once in a while I will signal in a defense that can’t be run with the package we have on the field. They’ll come over to me and say, ‘Uh, coach, we can’t run that.’ I like it when they do that – I call them my spellcheckers.”
Since falling to Gonzaga Prep on Oct. 7, the Bears’ defense has allowed just four touchdowns in five games. And no team has scored more than one against the Central Valley defense. Along the way the Bears blanked Pasco’s Chiawana, ranked No. 2 in the state in the final Associated Press poll, to get into the state playoffs, and knocked off defending state Class 4A state champion Ferris, 23-7, in an opening round playoff match-up last week.
Central Valley now faces Skyline, the team Ferris beat in last year’s state championship game, today at 1 p.m. in Issaquah – the first time the Bears have played on the west side of the state since they won the 1997 state championship in the Tacoma Dome.
CV has proved it can stop the run. Today it will be tested by the pass.
“Skyline has a big quarterback who can throw the ball,” coach Rick Giampietri said, referring to 6-foot-5 junior Max Browne. “And if you go down the list of their receivers, they all have 400 or 500 yards receiving and they all seem to run well after the catch.”
It will be a solid test for Kent’s defense – a defense most teams will not have faced before if they haven’t played Central Valley.
“We came up with this defense three or four years ago when we were at the University of Idaho camp,” Kent explained. “Patrick Libey is an assistant coach there and he played at CV – in fact, he was on that state championship team in 1997. We sat down and talked with him and told him about how we didn’t have the prototypical defensive tackles, guys who go 250 pounds. But we did have guys who were fast. So he showed us a slice of his defensive package. We started tinkering with it and liked how it worked.”
The package, with a long list of variations named after fish , and each emphasizes speed and an attacking mentality. “Patrick loves to fish and he used names like salmon, carp and whale,” Kent explained.
“With most defenses, the offense will dictate what you can do by the way they line up on the ball,” Kent explained. “If you put a tight end on the left side, you have to have him covered. Our defense is different. We don’t care how you line up – we’ll eventually get everyone covered. And we’re going to run stunts and blitzes and zone blitzes at you, but you’re not going to know where it’s coming from because it never comes from the same place twice.”
It’s a scheme that is as frustrating to offensive coaches as it is effective.
“I’ve had coaches get mad at me when I try to explain it at summer camps,” Kent laughs.
What’s made the Bears current run so effective, however, has been less about the defensive scheme itself and more about the players running it.”
“It’s always about the kids, and we have a great bunch of kids,” Kent says.
Following the Gonzaga Prep game, quarterback Gavin Deyarmin and inside linebacker Alex Jacot, both seniors, called a players-only meeting to make sure everyone on the team knew what was needed to make sure the team reached its goal of making the state playoffs.
“I’ve had a couple teams do that, have a players-only meeting,” Giampietri said. “It doesn’t happen very often, but it’s not surprising coming from this bunch. They’re very self-motivated. Gavin even came to me the other day and told me that he was planning on running the offense on first sound and not off a snap count in practice. ‘Don’t get mad if we have some trouble with guys jumping offsides, coach – we’ll work it out.’ That’s the kind of kids they are.”
Wednesday the team did something no other CV team under Giampietri has ever done: they called a second players-only meeting.
“I’m not sure what they talked about,” the coach said. “But it didn’t surprise me.”
Kent, on the other hand, was surprised.
“I didn’t even know about the (first) meeting until I read about it in the paper,” he laughed. “I teach at another school and by the time I get here for practice, it’s already underway. I guess I missed some things.”
Two personnel changes on the defense have been key to this run, Kent insisted.
Senior Jace Gummersall, a 6-foot senior, moved into the starting lineup at inside linebacker as an injury replacement.
“He’s just been outstanding,” Giampietri praised. “He had something like 10 tackles for us last week. And the thing is, he was a safety for us and we decided to move him to linebacker because we were short of players, so he’s never played that position for us until this season. But he’s really picked up what we want to do and he executes very well.”
The second change was to make Deyarmin a two-way starter, taking over at safety, where he’s flanked by a pair of All-Greater Spokane League cornerbacks in Dustin Dach and Ryan Leone.
“He really understands what’s going on in the secondary and he’s like having a quarterback there,” Giampietri. “He does for the secondary what Jacot does for the defensive line and the linebackers – Jacot is a gem. We’d be hurting if we ever lost him.”
Kent said the key to today’s game lies in an unlikely place.
“You know, we play our best defense when our offense is on the field,” he said. “Their offense can’t beat us if our offense is on the field.
“When we’re on defense, we have a bunch of guys who are just chomping at the bit to go after that quarterback – they fight over who gets to blitz.”
Giampietri, too, likes his defensive prospects.
“We’ll get after them,” he said. “My nightmare is that they’ll throw four lobs over our heads and beat us that way, but they’d better be good.”