Dominating defense defines Amite

You don’t become one of the perennial contenders in the state and reach the state final four times in eight seasons by mistake.

The Amite Warriors (13-1) will face Welsh (11-3) at noon Friday in the Superdome. What has powered Amite back to the final this season is its defense. And it is not just any ordinary defense.

The Warriors have produced seven shutouts and allowed 6.7 points a game.

"Our defense has been playing lights out since Week 2," said Amite head coach Zephaniah Powell. "We haven’t surrendered that many points. The most we have given up was Week 1 (24) and the next-highest point total was 20 this past Friday night to Ferriday. Our defense has been our strong point for us."

The only real bump in the road was in Week 1 when Amite lost 24-23 to Metairie Park-Country Day.

Since the loss, the Warriors have won 13 consecutive games and didn’t give up more than 18 points until Ferriday scored 20 in the semifinals last week.

"We opened up with a strong Metairie Park-Country Day team," Powell said. "Our kids and coaching staff did not panic.

"We knew we played against a well-coached team, but we just didn’t to the things that it took to win the game. We brought our kids in that Saturday morning, got back to work Sunday. It has been a pretty good season from that point on. We just had to come in and show our kids the things that they were missing — a missed block or a missed tackle, misalignment or missed assignment. Our offense didn’t change and our defense didn’t change and our personnel didn’t change."

The defense starts up front with five-star defensive end Ishmael Sopsher. The 6-foot-5, 280-pound senior is regarded as one of the top linemen in the nation and LSU and Alabama are reportedly fighting over him. Sopsher has 17 tackles for a loss and five sacks, but he is not alone as junior end Larry Woolridge leads the team in sacks.

"Our other defensive tackle, Shemar Buckley, has been playing some great football," Powell said.

The Warriors also boast strong linebackers in tackles leader and senior Qadry Jackson and juniors Qabari Jackson, James McGowan and Daran Branch, who is rated a three-star recruit by 247sports.

The Warriors are also loaded in the secondary with four-star safety Devonta Lee, who, like Sopsher, is being sought after by LSU and Alabama, and three-star cornerback Kyle Maxwell. Both also play wide receiver.

"(Lee) is everything that you dream you could coach," Powell said. "He’s big, strong, fast and physical. He can do a lot for us.

"We play a lot of kids in our secondary because we have to play both ways. Kyle Maxwell is another highly rated kid. He loves playing corner."

It helps that the Warriors have a high-scoring offense that is averaging 44 points a game, led by three-star quarterback Amani Gilmore, who is committed to play football and baseball for Kentucky.

"He (Gilmore) hasn’t turned the ball over that much this year," Powell said. "He is a true duel threat. He can beat you with his arm and legs."

Running back Corey McKnight has found plenty of room to run behind a large offensive line led by senior center Dakota Cox (6-3, 310). McKnight has rushed for more than 1,400 yards and 30-plus touchdowns while Gilmore has thrown for more than 2,000 yards and 30 combined touchdowns.

"They have done a fantastic job of running the football for us," Powell said. "We spread people out and can throw the ball too, but in championship football you have to be able to play good defense and run the football."

<span>Amite vs. Welsh …………… Noon CST</span>

””SuperdomeAssociated Press