Defense has come through to be a strength for Sam Houston

At the beginning of the season, Sam Houston head coach Chad Paulk was concerned about the Broncos defensive play up front. It ended up turning into its strength as the team went from 4-6 in 2017 to 8-2 this season, its best since moving up to Class 5A in 2011.

"Early in the year, the question mark was the box," Paulk said. "We felt like we could hold up in the secondary in Class 5A. But it was the box that was most questionable.

"The kids have responded to the new defense, 4-2-5, and are playing fast. We can’t say enough about what the box has done as far as the linebackers and defensive linemen this year."

The formation change helped the defense go from allowing 39.3 points and 427 yards a game in 2017 to holding opponents to 20.8 points and 309 yards this year.

Leading the charge on defense has been senior linebacker Michael Harlow and junior defensive lineman Jacob Humphery.

"Those boys are two phenomenal football players," Paulk said. "They respond on the football field, but they are also leaders off the field. We are proud of both of them."

Humphery started as a sophomore but was injured in Week 6 against LaGrange last year. He has been the driving force in the trenches this season at 6-5, 250 pounds. He has 75 tackles, 13.5 tackles for a loss, 10 sacks, two pass breakups, plus two forced fumbles and to recoveries. He had 4.5 sacks and forced two fumbles in Week 4 against Sulphur and 11 tackles, 2.5 sacks and four tackles for a loss last week against New Iberia.

"He has been playing for us for two years now," Paulk said. "We can’t say enough about the way he prepares every week. He has grown up and come of age."

Harlow, who transfered from Westlake, has a team-leading 136 tackles, 12 tackles for a loss, three sacks and three pass breakups. He had 23 tackles, 1.5 tackles for a loss and forced a fumble last week.

"The addition of Harlow to the Bronco family has been unbelievable," Paul said. "He is a football player. He is an old school football player and has a nose for the ball."

The rest of the line, Tre’lon Garrick, Coltin Guilbeaux and Matthew Lockhart, each has at least 39 tackles and six tackles for a loss.

The defense bailed out the Broncos twice in the fourth quarter last week. New Iberia drove to the Bronco 26-yard line early in the fourth quarter only to turn the ball over on downs with the score tied 21-21. Sam Houston scored the go-ahead touchdown on the ensuing possession and the defense held the Yellow Jackets to minus-one yard on five plays after they got the ball back with 2:01 left in the game.

"That last drive, they (New Iberia) were pulling in and moving the ball," Paulk said. "When you make a team working for something, bad things will eventually happen.

"New Iberia had a few penalties towards the end in the red zone. We just kept coming after them and we were not going to give up those points. We didn’t give up a point in the second half, which was big time."

The defense’s performance held to seal up the Broncos’ first home playoff game since 2009 and the first as a 5A school. Sam Houston will host Denham Springs (6-4) on Friday in the bidistrict round.

"We have to start the game like we finished the game last week," Paulk said. "Our defense is going to have to be on their toes and really study film and know our opponent better than we know ourselves."

Senior Javon Slate has been the leader in the secondary with 27 tackles, 10 pass breakups and an interception. Safety Colby Wiersema has also been a big contributor with frequent blitzs. He has 44 tackles, 10 tackles for a loss, 3.5 sacks and three pass breakups.””<p>Sam Houston defensive lineman Jacob Humphery goes after Lafayette quarterback Xan Saunier in a recent District 3-5A game.</p>Rodrick Anderson/American Press

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