Defense is Longhorns’ winning formula

Kell Longhorns Football

The Kell Longhorns were on a roll last year when they entered the second round of the 2012 state playoffs. After an embarrassing 42-13 Week 3 loss to Class AAAAAA Lassiter, Kell responded with eight straight wins and hosted a Gainesville team that had lost two of its previous three games. The Longhorns built a 35-21 halftime lead, only to lose it in a 61-42 rout. Kell gave up 40 points in the second half and the Longhorns’ reputation of tough defense was questioned.


“After we lost that game last year, our focus went straight to making sure we were getting better,” said senior defensive lineman Ethan Elliott.


Since last year’s disappointing exit, the leadership on defense has gotten the No. 3 Longhorns back on track and they have responded with a 6-0 start, the school’s best start since 2010′s 12-0 start. Along the way, Kell played a trio of Class AAAAAA opponents (Chattahoochee, Woodstock and Lassiter) and topped them all by double-digits, including a 35-20 statement win over neighboring Lassiter, the team that had crushed them a year ago.


The formula for this fast start is one that has remained constant under coach Derek Cook, and according to Elliott, a formula that has been ingrained in the players since playing middle school football in the Longhorn program. Starters play on both sides of the football and take pride in playing a 48-minute ball game. This adds depth and a roster of tough playmakers.


As for the technicalities and the X’s and O’s, the defensive success has stemmed from Kell’s emerging pass rush led by Elliott. The 5-foot-10, 205-pound defensive lineman was all-region and all-county as a junior and flew under the radar with 10 sacks, including a game-changing sack-fumble that was scooped up and returned for a touchdown by teammate Donnell Greene in the Creekview game.


This season, Elliott made his presence known right away with two sacks in the season opener against Chattahoochee where the senior brought down elusive Cougars’ quarterback Taz Wilson. The all-county pace has continued and Elliott enters Friday with no intention of slowing down and a team-high 7.0 sacks on the season with 32 total tackles. Lining up with Elliott is the Longhorns’ other pass rush specialist Austin Meaut, who has recorded 6.0 sacks in the Longhorns first six games.


Having dependability up front has allowed the secondary to do its job. While defensive coordinator Joe Tousignaut has a unit that is constantly getting after the quarterback, he can play a more aggressive style and as a result create more turnovers with Kell’s traditionally successful secondary. This season, the defensive backs, led by Kennesaw State-commit Taylor Henkle have hauled in nine interceptions.


The offense has been led by second year starting quarterback Matthew McGuigan and his armory of versatile weapons: Julian Burris, Jay Moxey, Darian Harris, Errol Breaux, Bryson Armstrong and Henkle, who are all capable of finding the endzone.


“With Matthew returning as our starting quarterback I think [this year] we have really come together as a team. We have a few new guys contributing but we have been playing as one and need to continue playing as one,” said Elliott.


Kell will travel to Osborne Friday, before wrapping up region play with Sprayberry and Pope. The Longhorns have not lost a region game since Week 4 of 2011 and have won eight straight games against region-rival Pope.


The plan for the rest of the season is simple for Elliott, “play fast and hard and take it one play at a time.” As for his individual expectations, finishing the season with at least 15 sacks and helping his team reach deeper into the playoffs is foretold.


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