Blue Springs High School football coach Kelly Donohoe wants to give a little love to his Wildcats defense.
“You know, the offense gets a lot of attention,” Donohoe said after his 9-3 team edged Columbia Rock Bridge 29-27 last Friday to set the stage for a 1 p.m. Saturday Class 6 state semifinal game against longtime rival Rockhurst, “and they deserve it.
“But doggone it, our defense is getting it done, too. We don’t win (against Rock Bridge) without our defense!”
That was emphasized by the return of all-state linebacker Austin Stuller – who knifed into the Bears’ backfield on the second play of the game to make a tackle for a 6-yard loss – and linebacker Nick Henderson’s pick six interception, which gave Blue Springs a 22-13 lead and a ton of momentum going into halftime.
“We’re out there playing for each other,” Henderson said. “I got that pick-six, but it was all (teammate) Simeon Sullivan. He was yelling, ‘Screen! Screen!’ And I followed the quarterback’s eyes and knew right where he was throwing because of Simeon.”
Sullivan, a man-mountain defensive lineman, simply said, “That’s what we’re supposed to do – help each other out.”
While the Wildcats have totaled 4,066 yards of offense this season, they have held opponents to just 2,704 yards. Opponents are averaging just 106 passing yards and 118 rushing yards a game and have scored 22 touchdowns.
The man behind the group of unheralded heroes is assistant head coach and defensive coordinator Derek Wilson, whose ready smile and pleasant demeanor belies his never-say-die approach to making his defensive unit top notch.
“Coach Wilson has a saying,” defensive end and linebacker Niko Manning said, “We’re a team, but we’re 1 of 11 players out there and if one player takes care of his responsibilities, the other players can take care of their responsibilities, too.
“We don’t have to worry about who we’re playing next to, because they’re going to take care of business and get the job done.”
Added Sullivan: “We are so disciplined and well prepared and that all comes from Coach Wilson. He respects us and we respect him. And we love that man, we really love him.”
Stuller will be a key figure in Saturday’s semifinal game as he suffered a concussion in the first half of the second game of this season, a 17-0 loss at Rockhurst.
“Austin played in just one half of that game, and he did not play against Lee’s Summit North (one of three Wildcat losses on the season),” Wilson said, “so you can see we’re a different team with him out there.
“He is a special young man, a special player. They’re all special, but Austin has such a high football acumen that he makes everyone on the field a better player because he can do so many things.”
Stuller, a linebacker who has 45 tackles in just seven games, can’t wait for Saturday.
“We have ultimate respect for Coach (Tony) Severino and his team, that’s what makes Saturday’s game so special,” Stuller said. “I’m a senior, and it’s all winding down and Blue Springs is playing Rockhurst to go to state.
“That’s a dream come true for a high school football player. Coach Wilson is going to have a great game plan, we’re going to go out and execute it and do everything we can to get to state for the third year in a row.”