The Easton Valley River Hawks are heading into the 8-man playoffs on Friday night, heading into the bracket with a No. 6 ranking and an 8-1 record.
If you ask them what they’re most proud about this season, it’s pretty simple.
“We’re very proud of our defense,” senior Braydin Farrell said.
The defense has been night and day compared to the 2018 season. Even last year was a respectable finish for the River Hawks with a 5-4 record, but it wasn’t quite where they wanted to be.
In those nine games they gave up 363 points to opposing teams.
“I don’t want to say the defense lost us games, but it didn’t help them either,” defensive coach Derek Erwin said.
They realized the needed that to improve, and they worked on it. They put in work both mentally and physically in the offseason.
Through the nine regular season games this year, they’ve allowed 179 points – less than half.
“It’s 100 percent on the boys,” Erwin said. “They’ve done a wonderful job of buying into what we’re trying to do. They come out, they practice hard and work hard on Friday nights.”
It helped that most of the players on the varsity roster have multiple years of experience under their belt now. They’re no longer getting used to the intensity of the game. Instead, they’re running it.
“I think we’ve gotten a lot more experience,” senior Reid Heinrichsen said. “We watched a lot of film and everyone has a better idea of what their job is instead of having people just flying around the field.”
Paired with a prolific offense, the orange and gray have been intimidating this year, to say the least.
Leading the defense is senior Braydin Farrell, who has been one of the leading tackles not only for the River Hawks, but on this side of the state for two years.
“He kind of is the quarterback of the defense,” Erwin said. “He calls our plays and has led the team in tackles.”
Farrell, a linebacker, is joined by an impressive core of athletes. Hudson Felkey finished with 85 tackles through the regular season, while Cade Jargo, Porter Fuegen, Andin Farrell and Parker Olsen all hovered around 40 tackles.
Some of them are physically built, but athletes like Jargo and Felkey use a lot of speed in their approach.
Same with Farrell, who also is the team’s rushing leader.
“I think I used to surprise people a lot,” Farrell said. “I just try to be more physical than anyone, try to be physical and use my size and quickness to my advantage to get around people.”
Many of the athletes are multi-sport, participating in things like basketball and track (which both made deep postseason appearances).
That bodes well when Erwin is working on putting a line together.
“I like speed, personally, but we try to find a mixture of guys that are quick and strong,” Erwin said. “That way once they get around the o-line, they’re quick enough to chase down the runningback.”
They’ve worked particularly on the run game because they’re playing 8-man. That leaves a lot of space for big yard gains, and that was a focus for the River Hawks.
“It makes it more difficult because you’re taking away three guys who can make a play,” Erwin said. “You just have to get creative and call some plays that benefit you and take away the run game, which is huge in 8-man.
“Last year, that was big for us. We got gouged a couple times on the ground. We wanted to take that away and make teams beat us another way.”
Thanks to their experience, head coach Tony Johnson also touts them as being adaptable. A great example for them would be their 68-30 win over Springivlle in Week 5.
The River Hawks were actually trailing at half.
“We talked that we needed to pick it up, we needed to get it going,” Farrell said.
The did just that. The defense made adjustments and allowed just 16 yards by Springville in the entire second half. Impressive to say the least.
They’ll be looking for similar play heading into the playoffs. They kick off on Friday on the road, taking on No. 10 Gladbrook-Reinbeck (7-2) who also has an impressive defense.