WESTON – It’s no coincidence that Miramar middle linebacker Ryan Samuels wears No. 54.
He’s a fan of Brian Urlacher, but even more so of Zach Thomas, who he tries to emulate every Friday night.
Which is why he grinned wide after his best performance ever – two fumble recoveries, one returned for a touchdown, and an interception in a 38-2 triumph against Cypress Bay Friday – when reminded of head coach Damon Cogdell’s nickname for him.
“I do take on that role of ‘Baby Zach Thomas’ because he was a balanced linebacker,” said the 5-foot-11, 180-pound Samuels. “He would go back in coverage, get the pick, and then go in there and make a big hit. He was the commander of his team, that brought all [of] the defense together, got them all lined up. So I like to take on that role.”
With Samuels leading the way, the Patriots’ famed “Dark Side” defense has been downright dominating this season. Opponents have a total of 54 points in nine games this season.
While Friday’s win wasn’t officially another shutout since Cypress Bay’s defense recorded a safety, it was another stingy performance by a unit that racked up six turnovers – three fumbles and INTs by Samuels, Kaywon Davis and Marquino Martin – and held Cypress Bay to 111 total yards on 48 plays.
“It’s all from [linebackers coach Derick] Carroll’s linebacker drills,” said Samuels, who is starting to garner increasing attention from FCS schools. “He has us always swarming, always moving, on the run. And it paid off. Whenever I was swarming, on the move, the ball would just come to my hands. That’s just being around the ball. Good things happen.”
Cypress Bay, already playing without several key starters, lost starting quarterback Lucas Tellefsen on the game’s opening series when he took a hard shot to the jaw and was held out by Lightning coaches the rest of the game as a precaution.
Freshman running back Mike Epstein turned in an admirable performance, banging out 76 yards on 25 carries, but without injured starter Dylan Rupert, and against a determined Dark Side defense, Cypress Bay’s rushing attack had no chance.
There was no chance Miramar was going to take Cypress Bay lightly on Friday, Samuels noted, not with a district championship at stake for Miramar, as well as a chance to avenge two losses to their district rival last season, including a 34-14 defeat at Cypress Bay in the regional semifinals which ended a disappointing 7-5 season for Miramar.
“That was our big motivation,” Samuels said of last year’s loss. “It left a bad taste in our mouth. Giving up 34 points and all those rushing yards, we wanted to change that and come out with the new-look Dark Side defense, and show it is smash-mouth defense.”
The Patriots also continued to show that they can be effective playing two quarterbacks. Nick Jeanty and Gerald Hawkins rotated as they’ve done much of the season and both were effective. Jeanty was 8-for-12 passing for 90 yards with two touchdowns and Hawkins was 9-for-13 for 84 yards. Hawkins also rushed for a 10-yard touchdown and a team-high 38 yards on nine carries.
But this night belonged to Baby Zach Thomas and his Dark Side ‘mates.