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One down, two to go

Photo by Danny Aller

Photo by Danny Aller

ALBANY -- Want to know what makes Deerfield-Windsor tick?

Just listen to Walker Lanier, who might just be the smallest defensive end in all of GISA.

"I'd rather make tackles than score touchdowns,'' said Lanier, one of the poster kids for this overachieving bunch.

That's Deerfield in a snapshot.

Nobody tackles like the Knights, who became only the second team in DWS history to start a season at 11-0 when they beat Griffin Christian, 38-14 on Friday in the opening round of the GISA Class AAA state playoffs.

Stay tuned, because there's more to come.

No Deerfield team has ever gone 12-0, and this group has its sights set on a 13-0 perfect season with a state title at the end of it. The Knights -- who are now two wins from a state championship -- will be back at home in the state semifinals against a Mount de Sales team (10-1) that promises to bring more athletes to Webb Memorial Stadium than any opponent DWS has seen all year.

"Moving on is all that's important,'' said DWS coach Allen Lowe, whose last two teams have reached the state title game.

Lowe than added: "I don't feel like we played our best game (Friday). We played hard, but it will be a different feeling next week against Mont de Sales. They know what's coming in here.''

The feeling was swelling minutes after the win against Griffin.

"We'll have a lot more emotion next week,'' said Jordan Funderburk, a two-way lineman who is built like a fire hydrant and just about as tough to move. "We're not going to be satisfied until we win the state title two weeks from now. We'll bring more emotion next week.''

Don't tell Griffin (6-5), which had trouble finding the end zone. The Crusaders scored on two big plays, a 79-yard run by Alexander Lewis and an 85-yard kickoff return by Josh Lee. That was it.

The DWS "D" swarmed all night, and stopped one of the best running games in GISA. Lewis rushed for 1,459 yards this season, but even with his 79-yard TD, he finished the night with just 80 yards. He was stopped for a loss or no gain nine times.

"We watched a lot of film on him,'' said defensive lineman Matt Miller who had double-digit tackles. "We were thinking he's the best running back we've ever seen, and we were determined to contain him.''

They did. And they didn't wait long to make their point. Griffin went for it on fourth and less than a yard at its own 19-yard line on the first possession of the game, and a blur of blue defenders tossed Lewis for a four-yard loss on the play.

"That was absolutely huge,'' said senior running back and cornerback Davis Moore, who had a monster night after sitting out last week with a hip injury. "That was a statement. We talked before the game that we had to make a statement, and the statement was that we are the best.

"Nobody runs against our defensive line."

Just look at the scoreboard after the first three minutes of the game: It was Moore 14, Griffin 0. Well, almost. Moore followed that early defensive stop by scoring on a 7-yard run to start the party for Deerfield, then two plays later he intercepted a pass and ran it back for a 12-yard TD.

He didn't stop. Moore scored on an 8-yard run to open the third quarter and finished the night with 131 yards on 15 carries and three TDS.

When Moore wasn't picking his way through Griffin's defense, it was Quentin Heard gaining bullish yards for the Knights. Heard finished the night with 109 yards on 19 carries when he scored on a 2-yard run with 6:29 left in the game that made it 38-14 and brought on the reserves.

"We're a tag-team,'' Heard said. "We like pounding the ball and taking it to them. We have a hit-the-in-the-mouth attitude.''

They hit them every way they could -- in the air, on the ground and even with a 41-yard field goal from Trey Puckett, who has been clutch all season. That's not even a career long for Puckett, who nailed a 45-yarder earlier this year.

Kinslow ran the show, threw a TD pass, punted and picked off two passes as a safety. But afterward, all he talked about was Moore and the defensive line.

Typical Deerfield, where everyone seems to want to pass on the praise. There was Lanier, talking about everyone else on the defense and talking about Kinslow's pass rather than his reception after the game.

Lanier scored on a quick slant pass, bolting for a 35-yard TD to lift DWS to a 24-0 lead, and he also made one of those remarkable plays that sometimes gets lost on the state sheet: a one-on-one tackle on a long punt to stop Griffin at its own 2-yard line.

"I was just trying to help the team win,'' Lanier said. "We're all trying to do what we can do.''

They should put that in the program. They had Harrison Houston's No. 63 painted on the field for the game after Houston and his father were both injured in a car accident last week. Houston received an inspiring ovation when he was introduced to the crowd at the game.

It was that kind of night for the Knights, who felt like this was just the first step to a state title.

"We felt we should have had a shutout,'' said linebacker Rhett Cooper, who was involved in several plays for losses, including two sacks. "Be we will definitely be more emotional next week. It's the state semifinals. In the big games, the defense steps up.''

They've stepped up all year, and now have two games left to make the final statement. They sure made one against Griffin.

"Mount de Sales is a very good offensive team," Griffin coach Kerry Phillips said. "But Deerfield has a great defense -- and I heard somewhere that defense wins championships.''