The Hylton defense that allowed 7.4 points per game last season featured the eventual USA Today defensive player of the year, linebacker Ahmad Brooks. The Hylton defense that has allowed less than half as many points this season features um, well, wait a minute . . .
"I wouldn't call it a no-name defense, because I think we have too many good players for that," said Bulldogs Coach Lou Sorrentino, who relishes his unit's interchangeable parts. "But we're not relying on one guy."
Hylton claimed seven of the 16 first-team all-Cardinal District defensive spots, including linemen R.J. Dawson (61 tackles, including assists), Chris Winston (43) and Jono Petrovitch (46); linebackers Jackie Watkins (115), Endor Cooper (108) and James Parker (74); and defensive back Deon Butler (51).
And that group does not include linebacker Donovan Bates (81), tackle Dennis Thompson (60) and defensive back Anthony Hayes (57), among others.
Brooks, now attending prep school at Hargrave Military Academy trying to become eligible to play at the University of Virginia, racked up 207 tackles in 13 games last season when the Bulldogs' 4-3 defense funneled most action in his direction. The current 4-4 alignment, while designed for the linebackers to make most of the stops, plays no real favorites.
"Both defenses are good, but now that Ahmad's left everybody's been getting a lot of time to do well," said Dawson, a senior who has eight tackles for losses and three sacks. "I think it's more of a whole-type defense this year. Everybody's pitching in."
"Everybody has one thing in mind -- run after the ball," Thompson said. "It's not a one-man defense this time."
Hylton has registered six shutouts and has allowed 38 points, but as low as that total is, not all 38 can be hung on the defense. Gar-Field scored a touchdown when the Bulldogs' offense fumbled in the end zone. In addition, two of three Woodbridge touchdowns came as a result of 10-yard overtime possessions. Forest Park scored on a pass with 12 seconds left.
"They run a scheme in which their kids can excel and a scheme they understand," said Gar-Field Coach Jim Poythress, whose teams have totaled 29 points against Hylton in four games the past two seasons, four of the nine straight losses the Bulldogs have pinned on the Indians. "The biggest factor is they put a great high school defensive line in front of you who are tough to move and take four fast and agile kids who'll hit you and put them at linebacker, and there you go. And their defensive backs are as good as anybody's.
"To win you need to be consistent and score more than once to beat them, and heck, it's hard enough to even get the one."
Hylton, which generally stays in its base set and keeps blitzing to a minimum, has been able to weather a rash of injuries on defense, particularly to the ends. Winston, for one, hurt his knee last game and is doubtful for this week.
The defense also has supported an offense that has struggled in the five games since the sniper-related stoppage, averaging 11.6 points during that time. Sorrentino said because the defense has been so miserly he has not hesitated to call a conservative game for his offense. Even the low-scoring games have been deceptively close in some cases, because the opposition has not seriously threatened to score.
"We'll play [defense] any way you want to play," Sorrentino said. "Power football, fine. Spread it out, fine. Our kids believe in the system that we can play any way we want, whether it's muddy or hot weather. A great defense seems to be stingy no matter what the situation is. These guys have done that all year."