The third-ranked Pelham Hornets are 6-0 on the season and while the Hornets have no problem scoring points, one of their biggest assets is defense. After six games this season the Hornets have allowed three touchdowns – period. That gives Pelham the lowest points allowed by any team in the state of Georgia. Defensive coordinator David Johnson is in his second year with the Hornets after nine years at Cairo. He believes Pelham is stronger because of the focus on fundamentals and because younger players get game time experience frequently.
“We focus on tackling just about every day,” Johnson said. “Tackle, tackle, tackle. That is what we do. But right now, I am coaching next year’s team this year. Juniors and sophomores are getting a lot of game experience because our region is not real strong. They will be ready to go from game one and not take two or three weeks next year to get game savy.”
One of the strongest points of the defense, Johnson said, is the line. Each of the players from last year’s team are back on the field again for the Hornets and they saw a great deal of playing time last year.
The Hornets lost only three seniors from last year’s 12-1 squad. All three played defense and all three are now playing college football. The Pelham defense this year is putting up stronger numbers than last year’s team.
“Statistically we are better,” Johnson said. “The cohesion and the chemistry is about the same. They feed off each other and they all have goals in front of them. Our biggest goal for the defense is to not let them score. And if they do, keep it to as few as possible.”
Macon County scored once against Pelham, Terrell County got one touchdown against the Hornets and Stewart County managed a touchdown on the second play of the game in Friday night’s 83-6 Pelham win. That touchdown got Johnson a questioning look from Pinkins on the sideline Friday night.
“We play a base defense. Rarely do we use a blitz or anything else,” said Johnson. “If you are going to call a blitz you better have reason because you are going to end up either the hero or the goat.”
On the second play Friday night, the Hornets blitzed, and Stewart County scored. That led to Pinkins look at Johnson. The two laughed about it later, but Stewart County is not on the same page as Pelham in the football world and the touchdown could have been avoided.
Barring something crazy like South Carolina beating Georgia (Pinkins played at South Carolina, by the way), the Hornets should have plenty of firepower and defense to stop Chattahoochee Friday night, Calhoun County the next and Seminole the following week. That would set Pelham up at 9-0 heading into the “Backyard Brawl” with Mitchell County for the region championship. How will the Pelham players react when they face strong opposition from a team like Mitchell County when they have breezed through the first nine games?
“Fundamentals never fail,” Johnson said. “When you get to the playoffs or a game like Mitchell County, that is when you figure out how good you really are. Fundamentals will be there when you get into the fire against better teams. We create competitions every day in practice. Our goal is to be better next week than we were last week, so we are constantly looking to improve those fundamentals.”
“In practice, you have to beat Pelham,” Pinkins added. “That’s why we practice the way we do. If you can beat Pelham in practice, you will be able to compete when we get to stronger competition.”
“Our defense is three plays away from being perfect and it’s because of five missed tackles,” Johnson said. We have had no long scoring drives all year, the three plays were big plays that scored, so we are three plays away from being perfect.”
Last year the Hornets went through the regular season 10-0 for the first time in school history. Friday night Pelham set a school record by scoring 83 points in a game. If the defense continues its dominance, they will set a record for the fewest points allowed in a season and are hoping to get beyond last year’s semi-final appearance in the state playoffs.
“Last year we set the standard,” Johnson said. “If you don’t make it to at least the semi-finals it’s not a successful season since that is where we were last year. That is how you build traditions and that is what we are looking for at Pelham. We want to create those kinds of traditions at Pelham High School.”