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3A high school football: Improved defense helped Dixie reach Rice Eccles Stadium

By Andy Griffin

For the Deseret News

Published: Wednesday, Nov. 14 2012 9:27 a.m. MST

ST. GEORGE – If defense wins championships, it's no wonder the Dixie Flyers haven't even sniffed Rice-Eccles Stadium the last two years. Defensively, Dixie just hasn't been very good for a few years.

But 2012 is a different story. The anecdotal evidence abounds, with last week's 14-13 win over Juan Diego at the top of the list — a huge difference from when the Flyers lost to the Soaring Eagle 41-0 a year ago.

Other scores tell us that Dixie's defense is a whole different animal in 2012. Dixie beat Springville 28-13 this season. The 2010 game was 55-48 in Springville's favor and the 2011 game ended 41-35 for Dixie. In seven of Dixie's 10 games last season, the Flyers' opponents had at least 22 points. And four of those were wins.

Sure, Dixie was winning some games, but they weren't so much beating people as out-scoring them.

This year, Dixie has allowed just four opponents to score 22 points or more. In 2010,Dixie gave up 35 points a game. In 2011 that number shrunk to 26 ppg.

This season, Dixie has allowed just 18 per game in the ultra-tough Region 9.

"We're smarter this year, and more disciplined," said linebacker Taylor Berry. "Everyone is playing their position and trusting their teammates to do the same."

Star defensive lineman Jess Lambert agrees with Berry's assessment, adding a few factors of his own.

"Experience is big, too," he said. "A lot of these guys are the same ones that were playing on those teams two years ago. But we're wiser and more experienced now. We're also having more fun. Some people discount that, but I think it's a huge factor. Practice is 20 times more fun this year. And that makes the games more fun as well."

Some more evidence that Lambert may be onto something: Dixie did something no one else had this season in keeping Juan Diego under 19 points. The Soaring Eagle had been racking up huge numbers this season, scoring at least 30 points in eight games and averaging 43.4 points a game the last eight weeks.

Of course, playing better defense isn't as simple as being disciplined and having fun.

"The kids have done a better job of playing as a team unit," defensive coordinator Rick Berry said. "We have some good leaders in Taylor Berry and Jesse Lambert and we've also got a lot of great role players who come in and do their jobs."

As Dixie prepares to face Spanish Fork in the championship game Friday morning (11 a.m. at Rice-Eccles), all those factors will come into play. Dixie has faced a triple-option and a wing-T offense the past two weeks, so getting back to defensing the spread will be interesting.

"Certainly, it is an advantage in preparing for a team that is similar offensively to you to get ready," coach Blaine Monkres said. "I think both teams will be able to mirror some of the things that the other team does fairly easily."

As for the marked improvement in his team's defense the past two years, Monkres said it's a matter of trust.

"If you trust your teammates, you can do your job and not have to try and do too much," he said. "These guys trust each other. They know that if they fulfill their assignments, their teammates will as well and that will get the job done. The kids really buy into what we are doing."

Discipline, experience,c ohesiveness and trust. Sounds like a recipe for success and Dixie will try and use it to cook up a state championship this week.

AndyGriffin is the sports editor of STGnews.com, covering Region 9 sports.

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