The Press Newspaper
When you see 11 Genoa defensive players fly to the football on every play, that is no coincidence.
Defensive coordinator Tim Spiess' philosophy is to get the team's fastest players on the defensive side of the balll.
"One thing we do really well is get to the football," said Spiess, whose unit has allowed just 7.9 points a game through 13 games. "We practice it every day. We have two whistles - one to stop the play and the second one is three seconds later. We expect all 11 defenders to be at the pile within three seconds."
Spiess was the defensive coordinator at Liberty Center for 15 years, helping the Tigers win six regional championships and one state title. Head coach Mike Vicars was raised in football-hungry Liberty Center.
The Comets (13-0) were two wins away from the school's first state football title heading into Friday's Division IV state semifinal game against Kettering Archbishop Alter (11-2).
Spiess said Genoa's "52 monster" defensive alignment features heavy pressure, starting with the nose guard position.
"We always believe in the power of the nose guard," Spiess said. "We always want to place a good defensive lineman directly over the center so we can control the middle of the field. Our defensive philosophy is you have to block our pressure and put up with us dictating tempo for 48 minutes. We want to dictate the tempo of the game. We want high pressure. We want fast pursuit angles and we swarm to the ball."
The Comets' nose guard is Devin Mazza, a 5-7, 150-pound junior who also wrestles. Spiess said Mazza is a "very tenacious defender."
In a 40-21 regional final win over Ottawa-Glandorf, Mazza picked up the Titans' 6-4, 230-pound fullback and slammed him to the turf to keep O-G from converting on third-and-1.
"They ran an isolation play right at Devin and he fought off the block and drilled the kid's shoulder blades to the turf," Spiess said. "It really energized our defense when he did that. He's a very hard-nosed, very determined athlete."
There are many other reasons why Genoa's first-team defense allowed only three touchdowns and posted four shutouts during the regular season.
In charge of making the defensive calls on the field is middle linebacker Marcus Vicars, a 210-pound senior who has 125 tackles.
"Marcus is the captain of the defense," Spiess said. "He calls all the plays and is in charge of the alignment and all of the shifting."
Spiess added that the Comets' top defensive player is senior lineman Ryan Bless (6-1, 190), who leads the team in tackles (131). Bless also had two interceptions against Ottawa-Glandorf.
"I've always called him the unblockable force," Spiess said. "He is so fast. He spins so well and has such good balance. He's had over 25 tackles behind the line of scrimmage. His two interceptions along with Devin's tackle set the tone for us."
In the secondary, Genoa's shutdown cornerback is Connor Wendt, an honorable mention All-Ohio pick last year. Wendt only has two interceptions this season "because they don't throw his way," according to Spiess.
Asked why the Comets' defense as a whole has performed so well this season, Spiess was quick to point out that the players believe in each other and their coaches.
"We preach trust your teammates," Spiess said. "We have outstanding chemistry. In my 25 years of coaching, this is the closest team I've ever been associated with. They have a great work ethic. When you spill blood together, it really does make you a closer family."
That trust factor came into play in the Comets' 24-0 win at Suburban Lakes League rival Eastwood. Ahead 7-0 at halftime, Spiess said he sensed concern from the players in the locker room.
"I told the kids it's not your hatred for Eastwood that will win this game, it's your love for each other that will win this game," Spiess said. "We tell our players we love them and our players tell us 'We love you, coach.'
"Every Thursday night, every player hugs coach Vicars before they go home. They initiated that. They wanted to get their coach Vicars hug in. That's the kind of atmosphere we had at Liberty Center and it's the kind of atmosphere we have at Genoa."
Spiess added that he hasn't tweaked the Comets' defense one bit during their three-game playoff win streak against Huron, Fostoria and O-G.
"We just come at them. We get after it," Spiess said. "That's the only way I know how to coach it. It doesn't matter if they run the football or are in a five-wide spread, we just hope to wear people down. We talk about imposing our will on our opponents. I think we do that, without a doubt.
We'll continue to do that because we think this way works."
No one is arguing.
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