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Game of the Week - Bulldogs want to be known for defense

By CONOR NICHOLL

cnicholl@dailynews.net

OSBORNE - Junior end/linebacker Brandt Wolters has heard about Osborne High School's great offense throughout his career. However, the Bulldog defense rarely receives any credit for a program that is 28-7 since it moved to eight-man before the 2010 season. While the offense ranks second to Madison in Eight-Man Division I in that span, the defense permitted between 326 and 359 points each of the last three seasons.

"We kind of want to be known for our defense," Wolters said. "It's kind of irritating getting asked about offense being the best all the time. It's like that all we've got."

On Friday, Osborne, 2-0 and ranked No. 2 in Eight-Man, Division I in the statewide media poll, travels to in-county rival Downs-Lakeside (0-2) in the district opener. The Bulldogs defeated WaKeeney-Trego 64-38 and Hill City 64-18. While the defense allowed some yards and scores early against a Hill City team on a 10-game losing streak, Osborne has made some strides on that side of the ball.

The biggest change came when senior Maverick LeRock, formerly a defensive end, moved inside to nose guard in the summer. LeRock, Osborne's strongest player at 6-foot, 200 pounds, has 15 tackles, a sack and a fumble recovery in a key position in coach Steve Tiernan's 3-3 aggressive, reacting defense.

Tiernan said Osborne will give up plays if it guesses wrong, but if the defense can guess right or cause a stalemate, the Bulldogs will succeed.

"He can command a double team," Wolters, the team leader with 25 stops, said. "He is big and strong and that helps us free up our linebackers."

Tiernan, in his third season at Osborne, formerly built Baileyville B&B into a powerhouse that has made five straight state championships. In 2007, the Falcons went 7-3 and lost to Hope in the first round, 26-16. Hope ran the dive play on the option over and over. Tiernan said Hope's fullback finished with around 39 carries for 140 yards, but Hope continually converted on third-and-short and the Falcons couldn't get the ball.

After the loss, Tiernan decided to construct a defense to stop the dive. In Tiernan's eyes, eight-man football is 90 percent defending the option. However, the fullback gets the ball 60 percent of the time, the quarterback keeps it around 35 percent of the time and the pitch man gets it just five percent of the time. The next season, B&B advanced to the state championship with the new look.

"It worked and the rest is history," Tiernan said.

However, at Osborne, things were a little different. In Tiernan's first season, the biggest defensive issue came because the Bulldog offense scored too quickly behind speedy playmakers Damon Schurr and Ethan Slothower. At times, Tiernan wanted to run clock and called conservative plays.

"One play later we would score," Tiernan said.

Last season, Tiernan said the defense grew a little worse "and couldn't stop anybody." Tiernan went back and started looking at film. When his defense was successful, a nose guard played well. Tiernan moved LeRock inside. LeRock's main role is to draw a double team and control the 'A' gap on either side of the center to control the dive.

"I like it," LeRock said. "It's a lot of fun. It's different coming from D-end to nose guard."

Osborne and LeRock is also much healthier. Last year, the Bulldogs started 6-1. In Week 8, Osborne led Scandia-Pike Valley 18-0. Then, three starters suffered injuries in the next several minutes. The Bulldogs lost 50-40. In Week 9, the depleted Bulldogs played Mankato-Rock Hills with a playoff berth on the line and lost 56-6; the Grizzlies finished as state runner-up.

In the 2012 track season, LeRock broke his tibia when he went over a hurdle. He finished with 933 total yards and 14 scores last fall, but wasn't fully healthy. LeRock had his last of three surgeries at the start of the 2013 track season and called his leg "good as new."

"Boy this year, he is 100 percent, and he is fast," Tiernan said.

Senior Kenton Ubelaker has 251 career tackles and 11 interceptions as the middle linebacker.

"Kenton has just got the whole deal," Tiernan said. "He is fast, he is strong and he does like to play physical, both sides of the ball."

Senior Alan Mick has moved from linebacker to defensive end. Senior Collin Berkley is at defensive end and junior Shane Hendrickson joins Wolters at linebacker. Sophomore Jake Tiernan and junior Parkes Wolters are normally at corner.

Against WaKeeney-Trego, Osborne led 42-14 at halftime and 58-20 after three quarters before the Golden Eagles tacked on three late scores. Hill City scored early and Osborne led 16-12 after the first quarter. The Ringnecks scored on an assignment breakdown and a good run, a time when Osborne didn't line up right and a play when Hill City broke multiple tackles. Plays in the past, Osborne gave up points without the offense even breaking a tackle.

"We are definitely light-years ahead than what we have been defensively," Tiernan said.