Shoring up defenses might be ticket for Eagles, Flyers

J. Patrick Eaken

For Eastwood and Lake to hold their own in the Northern Buckeye Conference, coaches know they have to shore up their defense. 

It is not that the defenses were bad last year, it is just that, how do you say it? “Defenses win championships,” right? That is especially the case when you have to defend against Otsego quarterback Joe Dzierwa.

The Eagles lost to graduation two standout defensive ends in Blake Landis and Gage Might. Landis had a combined 30 tackles for a loss and sacks.

“We have some really good athletic kids who can play defensive end. We have to make sure that we get those guys some experience early on. (Senior) Emmet Getz played a lot of outside linebacker for us last year, but he is going to move down to defensive end,” Eastwood coach Craig Rutherford said.

“At the other linebacker spots, we return (junior) Bryce Hesselbart (61 tackles), who played inside linebacker, and that is a position where experience is so critical, so getting a year of varsity experience for him will make this year’s start so much faster. Dylan Hoffman earned a spot for us last year and he returns for us as a senior.”

The 5-foot-9, 180-pound Hesselbart had 61 tackles, including a combined four tackles for a loss and sacks, and the 6-0, 174-pound Hoffman had a combined five tackles for a loss and sacks.

“One of the main advantages we have for our defense this year is we return all three guys in our secondary. (Junior) Case Boos is an all-league guy and (senior) Lake Boos, and (senior) Isaac Cherry are both back,” Rutherford said. 

“We expect big things out of that group with as much experience as they have and as athletic as they are. As competitive as those guys are, that should be one of the strengths of our defense.”

Cherry had three interceptions last year, Lake Boos had two picks and Case Boos had 29 tackles, 


Conner Moore a wanted man

At Lake, 6-5, 260-pound senior defensive lineman Conner Moore, who has had Division I offers from Eastern Michigan University and Montana State and D-II from Grand Valley State, heads up the defense, plus he will start at offensive tackle.

“I expect him to be a real force this year. He’s sitting at 6-6 and about 255 pounds, and he is still a baseball kid, but he really committed to football,” Lake coach Josh Andrews said. “He just has a motor, he finishes blocks, great pursuit to the ball, he has great feet, and he doesn’t stay blocked (on defense) and is just a tough one-on-one assignment for somebody.”

The interior of Andrews’ line, just like his running back positions, is still a work in progress.

“It’s hard coming back because we pretty much lost the interior (line) to graduation, but there are some kids that we are looking forward to. (Lineman) Gerritt Kistler will be a sophomore and he’s filling out and he’s enjoying the weight room. He moves well, so we’re hoping for some good things from him,” Andrews said.

“We moved (junior) Jack Caughorn, who played wingback position, which is basically a lower right guard if you will, so we moved him to guard, and he runs well,” Andrews continued.

Also, likely to earn key roles on the line are 6-3, 270-pound sophomore Jason Ahumada and 6-3, 240-pound junior Cole Mershon.

“Jason Ahumada, as a freshman he was 6-1, 285 — he’s a big boy and starting to move well. We’re looking for some good things out of him,” Andrews said. “Cole Mershon is in that mix of things.”

Senior Richie Hayward also returns to play in the defensive backfield, where he brings “good footwork” and “can play man or zone, runs well and has good ball skills.”

“We’ve got a returner in Richie Hayward, and we have a couple kids who decided to come out as seniors, and those could be some surprises, I don’t know yet,” Andrews said. “(Seniors) Keagon Henry and Michael Tolles are at the strong safety and free safety and at our other corner there is a couple people who are interested in that spot, so we’ll see where that leads us.”

At outside linebacker returns a sophomore, 6-0, 175-pound Joah Herman, who lettered last year as a freshman. Matt Perry, a 6-2, 190-pound junior returns at outside linebacker and Andrews says, “(senior) Garrett Brown will also mix with the linebacking group.” Plus, the 5-9, 165-pound Tolles could play some linebacker.

“There is another sophomore, David Parsons and Anthony Anzaldua is a junior, so I just think there is going to be some competition there and I think they are excited for that competition. There is no animosity between them. They just know, ‘Hey, we are going to get after each other’ and it is our job as coaches to put the best one on the field. I don’t know if we are going to have some kind of a rotation, but we have some kids who have some potential,” Andrews said.

“It is a pretty athletic group that plays well in both the pass and run. Communication skills are pretty good, so we are excited to see with a sophomore, junior and a senior (Tolles), they are taking steps and growth, and that is what we like to see,” Andrews said.

There are still some question marks for Lake’s offense, too, especially in the backfield. But that does not mean there are not solid candidates.

“I don’t know if we are going to have an every-down back necessarily. We have quite a few who want to compete for that job. One, a senior, is Garrett Brown is just a gritty, competitive kid who likes contact, runs and blocks well and that is a good place to be in our offense if you like those things. 

Andrews says Perry “can defend the pass and run, run sideline to sideline and has a good football IQ.”

If the defensive question marks are answered, and a couple more on the offense, Andrews says his team can compete in the NBC. The Flyers came close to winning some big games last year, but lost to Eastwood 31-24 and league champion Otsego 27-13.

“Eastwood got us by seven last year and we were tied with Otsego 13-13 at half, and I think we are excited to be with those guys. We have some work to do before then and we are always up to the challenge,” Andrews said. 







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