Goss: Plainfield South defense primed for high-powered Marist
By Dick Goss email@example.com October 30, 2013 10:41PM
Plainfield South's Chad Willison pressures Oswego East quarterback Tyler Kennedy Friday in Oswego. | Mary Beth Nolan/For Sun-Times Media
Updated: December 2, 2013 12:15PM
Plainfield South senior inside linebacker Clifton Garrett usually has the answers on the field.
One thing escapes him, however.
“I feel I’m playing my best toward the end of the year, which for some reason is the way it always seems to be,” Garrett said as the Cougars prepared for their trip to East Suburban Catholic heavyweight Marist on Friday night in the opening round of the Class 8A state playoffs.
Ranked one of the best outside linebacker prospects in the country and selected to play in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl on Jan. 4 in San Antonio, Garrett’s timing is impeccable. And, he is taking his teammates along for the ride.
South (6-3) was allowing 26.5 points per game entering Friday’s regular-season finale at Plainfield East. The Bengals already were in the playoffs, while the Cougars assumed they needed to win. Their 38-0 victory, though, raised eyebrows.
“The shutout actually was a carryover from the second half of the Oswego game (in Week 8),” South coach Ken Bublitz said. “Our defense made a much better showing after Oswego really took it to us early on.”
The Cougars were in a 21-point hole before rallying but fell short 35-28 against the Southwest Prairie champion.
“It was huge to get a shutout against a very good East team,” said the 6-foot-3, 225-pound Garrett, who has received offers from LSU, Tennessee, Mississippi, Florida and Oregon, among others. “That’s huge for momentum going into Marist.”
The South-Marist match-up could be one of the best involving area teams in Round 1. Twelve are involved in 11 first-round games, with the Plainfield East at Lincoln-Way East battle in 7A the only one pitting two area schools.
“Marist has more than held its own against a great schedule,” Bublitz said. “We have to play well.”
That begins with defense, which begins with Garrett.
“Clifton’s level of play has improved in the latter part of the season,” Bublitz said. “He has become more of an impact player. He’s healthier now, and that has made a big difference as well.”
Garrett battled a bad wrist, a left knee tweak and back issues during the season. But none of that forced him to miss any full games, and he is feeling better.
“I won’t let any small injuries hold me back,” he said.
South’s rejuvenated 4-4 defense features Jacob Cozzi, Chad Willison, Axel Gonzalez and JC Godin up front, with Garrett and Daniel Saracco at inside linebacker and Mason Matesevic and either Roberto Carrillo or Drew Kaup outside. Zachary Tuzak is at safety and Joey Ruske and Chase Steininger at the corners.
The ace in the hole is running back Josh Harris, who helps in the secondary or even as a pass-rushing defensive end in certain schemes.
“No question the plan our defensive staff (coordinator Scott Nelson, Rob Szudarski, Dave Cherico and Chris Kelly) put in last week worked well,” Bublitz said.
South intercepted three passes against East. The secondary knocked down three, two more were deflected at the line and the Cougars had two sacks.
“We always felt we had a defense that could produce turnovers, but we weren’t doing it on a consistent basis,” Bublitz said.
Marist (6-3) demands another effective defensive plan. The RedHawks average 39.9 points and allow 30.7. South averages 30.9. The key appears to be whether the Cougars can limit the RedHawks’ production.
“Marist has two D-I receivers in Nic Weishar, who is going to Notre Dame, and Flynn Nagel, who is getting D-I looks,” said Garrett, who understands his opponents’ capabilities. “They have quickness outside.
“We are looking forward to a huge challenge. We have to keep their offense off the field. We have to make big plays. Those are the momentum turners. If we do a good job stopping their running game, that would help.”
Garrett is focused on the job at hand. The recruiting? That will wait.
The first step is to beat Marist. Nobody said it would be easy.