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Top offense, top defense set to clash in finale

Peter Steiner | Thursday, November 17, 2011

With the imminent clash between a potent offense and a tenacious defense, the question is inevitable. Does defense truly win championships or will the offense prevail to take home the trophy?

The answer will emerge Sunday, when No. 5 Dillon’s lockdown defense faces No. 3 Sorin’s high-octane offense. While Dillon has shut out opponents in four of the six games it has played, Sorin has averaged nearly 18 points per game in the regular season — 10 more points than the teams in its division combined.

Junior receiver Ryan Robinson attributed Sorin’s success to the Otters’ well-rounded offensive attack.

“The ability to run and pass — a dual-threat offense — [makes our offense go],” Robinson said. “We have a great running back [and] a great offensive line. We also have the deep passing threat that most teams lack with the quarterback and wide receivers.”

Sorin’s capability to gain yards on the ground or through the air keeps defenses honest when defending the run or pass, Robinson said.

“Usually we’ll try to mix it up to try to be unpredictable, but usually we end up running the ball because it’s a safer option,” he said. “We use the run to set up the pass. We try to pound it at them and then hit them deep.”

With three touchdown passes over 55 yards this season, this

strategy has worked well for Sorin. As a result, the Otters are certainly aware of the importance of these plays.

“It is tough to have a sustained drive in interhall without the discipline or coordination in the offense,” he said. “So usually the game comes down to one big play, who makes it and who doesn’t, whether it be on offense or defense. Luckily, we have been on the winning side of the big plays this year.”

However, when the big plays have been absent and the game is close, the Otters have relied on junior kicker Connor Wathen to come through in the clutch. In addition to kicking the game-winning field goals in the quarterfinals and semifinals, Wathen converted the game-winning extra point in overtime of last year’s interhall championship.

“We are really lucky to have such a fantastic kicker,” Robinson said. “Honestly, he could probably walk on [Notre Dame] if he wanted to. He’s got a cannon for a leg. I don’t think we have missed one extra point. We’ve missed maybe one field goal and to have that added aspect is invaluable.”

To score, though, the Otters will have to move the ball against a Dillon squad that has only given up 20 points all season. In fact, junior captain Will Salvi and his fellow defensive teammates have nicknamed their defense, “Sticky D.”

“‘Sticky D’ is when the defense is always stuck to the offense, which means we are always going to be with them,” Salvi said. “No big plays. We are always going to be with them and always going to stop them.”

According to Salvi, the Big Red’s athleticism and speed allows them to swarm to the ball carrier and prevent meaningful gains by the offense.

“It starts with stopping the run and getting guys to the ball,” Salvi said. “That’s where our linebackers and defensive ends come in. We have a lot of fast guys on defense and a lot of good athletes in more of the bigger positions like linebackers and defensive linemen. They are athletic enough to go and attack the ball.”

Senior linebacker Evan Wray credited the defensive secondary with allowing the entire defense to play more aggressively against the run.

“I think our defensive backs are really strong and that allows our linebackers to focus a little more on the run,” Wray said.

“[Freshmen safeties Colin Terndrup and Ted Williams] are shutting down receivers so that allows the defense to be very aggressive.”

The Dillon defense, and its 20 given-up points this season, will have its hands full Sunday at 3:30 when it faces an offense that has averaged 18 points per game.