When coach Corey Johnson took over Edmondson’s football team last summer, he thought the Red Storm’s defense would be pretty good. Even he didn’t expect it to be this good.
The Red Storm has shut out five of its last six opponents including City, 44-0 last week, and No. 5 Dunbar, 14-0 Friday. The Poets had not been held scoreless in seven years – not since the last time Edmondson beat them, 12-0, on Oct. 6, 2006. That year, Edmondson went on to win the Class 2A state championship, its only state football title.
In Friday’s win over Dunbar, the Red Storm didn’t score an offensive touchdown. Jaequan Hill provided all the scoring from his strong safety position.
“I was in the right place at the right time,” Hill said. “Our coach made a great call. I just had to be there and show up. I knew to get the job done it would be big plays on turnovers.”
In the first quarter, the junior stripped a Poets running back and returned the ball 73 yards for a touchdown. In the third quarter, he returned an interception 55 yards for another touchdown.
“The first play was big, because Dunbar broke open a run and he looked like he was going to score, but Jaequan stripped the kid, started weaving down the sideline and got a couple blocks,” Johnson said. “In the third quarter, [Dunbar quarterback William] Crest was rolling out to his right and he fired a shot about 25 yards. Jacquan stepped in front of it. I knew when he caught it, he was gone.”
The Red Storm (6-3) opened the season 1-2, but senior linebacker Walter Cooper said it was just a matter of getting the players to believe in themselves, something that took time with a new coach and the loss of at least seven potential starters who transferred.
"Now, we feed off each other,” Cooper said. “If anybody makes a play, everybody wants to make a play. Five shutouts, that’s big. That’s the heart of our defense, the heart of our team, just to try to keep them out of the end zone. We score one or two times and the game should be over with our defense.”
In addition to Cooper and Hill, defensive end Derrick Tate, safety Daniel Williams and linebacker Brian Campbell have also been key to the defensive surge, Johnson said, along with defensive coordinator James Ballentine, who coached last year at Southwestern
“He’s just been doing a phenomenal job with the guys,” Johnson said. “He really has a great system down, aggressive and we said at the beginning of the season we were going to rely on defense, because they were ahead of what we wanted to do offensively and we thought we had some special playmakers on defense. We’ve got the guys leading and really taking pride in the defense.
“They’ve got the mentality now that they’re just not going to score on us. It doesn’t matter the size of the opponent or what they’re doing, the guys are really believing in each other. And now it’s getting to the point where they want to score.”
With the win over Dunbar, Edmondson earned its first Ben Eaton Memorial Trophy. The Eaton award, named for the late Dunbar coach, has been presented to the winner of the rivalry game since 2007.
The Red Storm has one regular season game remaining before moving on to the regional playoffs. They have a playoff berth clinched in Class 1A South, but Johnson doesn’t want them to overlook Mervo when the two play Friday afternoon at Edmondson.
Mervo has a 3-6 record, but the Mustangs took City to overtime and lost 8-6 to Patterson. Patterson is the only team to beat Edmondson in the last six games and beat them soundly, 29-8.
Still, the Red Storm players are motivated by the playoffs.
“We’ve still got a lot of unfinished business to take care of – state championship,” Cooper said. “We lost to Middletown (two years ago) and we lost to (Douglass from) PG County (last year). We’re hungry.”
Both of those losses came in the Class 2A state semifinals. This season, the Red Storm is in Class 1A while Dunbar, the three-time defending state 1A champion, has moved up to 2A.