According to coach Ed Hottle, Stevenson’s best start in school history has been a long time coming. It’s also a product of inspired play by the defense.
Through four games, no opponent has scored more than 19 points in a single game against the Mustangs, who are tied for 12th in Division III in points allowed (9.8), rank 18th in yards surrendered (247.8), are tied for fourth in interceptions (nine) and eighth in takeaways (12).
So how does a defense that in 2013 allowed 24.2 points and 370.2 yards per game and collected 11 interceptions among their 17 takeaways improve so dramatically?
Hottle said the seeds were planted in the offseason when first-year defensive coordinator Dustin Johnson, the team’s former special teams coordinator, installed a 3-4 base alignment instead of Stevenson’s traditional 4-4 scheme.
“We made a pretty big adjustment in our defensive philosophy, and as a head coach, that’s exciting, but you also have some reservations because it’s something new and you’re not sure how guys are going to respond to it in-game,” Hottle said Wednesday. “To their credit, they’ve responded overwhelmingly positive to it. We’ve had some early-season success, but I think playing with that confidence under a new defensive coordinator and a new defensive philosophy is certainly something we’re excited about. … What we’ve been able to do is to really start to play with some confidence, and when you’re playing with confidence on the defensive side of the ball, that’s a pretty powerful thing.”
The Mustangs have gotten contributions from a number of players. Sophomore outside linebacker Cory Pietrzyk’s 33 tackles lead a group of six players with at least 20 stops each.
Senior safeties Shane Clough and junior Billy Lewis each have intercepted two passes, and four defensive linemen – seniors Tyler Krug, Scott Lange and Moses Anoh and junior Zach Houston – each have four sacks.
Hottle said the defense’s collective effort makes it difficult for him to single out any individuals who have exceeded his expectations.
“Honestly, I think all of them have,” he said. “With going through the transition and seeing these guys embrace new techniques and new philosophies and new styles, I’m impressed by all of them because they all have bought in.
"When you go into a situation as a new coordinator, it can be challenging because there’s going to be a lot of questions, especially since some of these guys had been in a system for four years. They could have questioned, and they could have responded not as positively as they have, but they’re all in.
"Coach Johnson has done an outstanding job. He’s got those defensive kids buying in 100 percent, and it shows in what we’ve been able to do this season.”