When I got the statistics from Fieldcrest’s 25-0 victory over Tri-Valley in Week 2, I had a weird thought.
For some reason, I pictured Fieldcrest defensive coordinator Mitch Neally gathering his defense and giving a speech along the lines of coach Bill Yoast in “Remember the Titans” — “I don’t want them to gain another yard. … Make sure they remember forever the night they played the Knights.”
The stats were movie-like ridiculous.
Not only did Fieldcrest pitch a shutout, but the Knights limited the Vikings to just 42 total yards and forced four turnovers.
Forty-two yards! Zero yards passing!
That came against a Tri-Valley program that has made the playoffs 11 consecutive years with a state championship in 2015 and a state runner-up in 2013 — not some scrub team that should be playing eight-man football.
That performance came after the Knights held Reed-Custer to seven points on 190 yards in the opener with 70 of those yards coming on one run and 40 on the last drive of the game.
Neally credits the defensive success so far to the work ethic and mentality of the players, fundamentals and game planning by the coaching staff.
“The success of our defense starts with the work ethic our players have put in this offseason and continue to put in day in and day out in the weight room,” Neally said. “To have a good defense, you have to have a group that is disciplined and continually willing to work to get better, and that’s what these guys do.”
Along with working hard, Neally said the Knights defenders have the right attitude.
“They are an unselfish group,” Neally said. “Our players know that sometimes their role isn’t going to be to make the tackle, but to set a teammate up to make a tackle and they are completely OK with that.
“This team is all about doing what is best for the greater good of the team.”
The Fieldcrest defense is centered around the acronym AATEF, which is short for Alignment, Assignment, Technique, Execute and Finish, which is something Neally brought from his prep football days at Carthage.
“We talk about how each one builds off the other and if we aren’t aligned correctly, it affects what our assignment is and so on,” Neally said. “It’s our job as coaches to make sure that all our players on defense are aligned correctly and know exactly what their assignment is every play. Our kids have done a great job so far this year of listening and understanding what their assignment is on defense. They do a great job watching Hudl and they aren’t afraid to ask questions.
“We have worked hard all offseason and continue to work at practice on the technique and execution. We try to build the fundamentals of our players. We do a lot of the same defensive drills and our kids understand the importance of improving on the small things. As the season goes, we just make sure our kids know their alignment and assignment and then we just let them be the type of player and athlete they are.”
Of course, there’s studying the opponent as well.
“As a coaching staff, we work really hard breaking down film to build a solid game plan week in and week out,” Neally said. “Every Monday we go over our opponent’s scouting report and I take a lot of pride in making those and making sure our players are as informed as they can be about their opponent.
“I try not to overload them with information though. You key in on your opponent’s top plays and talk about how we are going to try to take those plays away. We talk a lot about knowing your opponent and doing everything you can to prepare yourself for Friday night.”
The Knights and their defense have some tough opponents to prepare for in the coming weeks with Tremont (2-0) coming to Minonk on Friday followed by Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley (2-0) the following week.
Kevin Chlum is the NewsTribune Sports Editor. He can be reached at 220-6939, or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @NT_SportsEditor.