MARPLE >> When Cardinal O’Hara went to work for the 2016 season, something that head coach B.J. Hogan, defensive coordinator Jim Connor and the rest of the staff preached was physical toughness.
Not being afraid to initiate contact. Not shying away from getting hit. Not worrying about getting overpowered at the line of scrimmage.
Junior linebacker Stef Borcky and senior lineman Stephon Brown got the message. Both, according to Hogan, have been standouts defensively for the Lions. The proof is in the numbers: In their first two games, the Lions own a plus-71 scoring differential, allowing six measly points.
The run defense has been nothing short of stellar, holding opposing rushers to 1.0 yard per carry (50 yards on 50 carries). The passing defense hasn’t
been too shabby, either. Quarterbacks have completed just 5 of 15 pass attempts for 73 yards. The two offenses O’Hara’s defense has faced have registered a total of five first downs. It has allowed 123 yards and one touchdown in the first two weeks of the season.
One of Hogan’s favorite slogans is to trust the process. It’s clear the message has resonated with his players, especially the defensive unit.
“To me, it’s really important because it showed the whole team that just trusting the process has really paid off the last two years,” said Brown, a 6-1, 300-pound defensive tackle.
“Last year, a lot of it was new to us and a lot of people were kind of doing their own thing at first,” Borcky said. “But when we work together as a team and everyone does their own job, as you can tell, we can be a good team. We let Mastbaum (last week) only put up 47 yards on our defense. So if everyone does their job, we should be really good.”
There has been no real overhaul to Connor’s defensive strategy, just a buy-in from the players. That includes giving everything on every play; performing without fear or hesitation.
“Everyone is doing their job now and trusting the system,” Brown said. “It’s really paying off.”
O’Hara is 2-0 for the first time since 2012 and will go for its first 3-0 start since the 2010 campaign, when it won eight straight to begin the year.
The Lions are tasked with facing another improved program Saturday morning at Chester (10:30 kickoff). This will be the first big test of the season for Hogan’s squad. While the Lions were extremely pleased with their performance in their first two contests, outscoring a pair of Philadelphia Public League teams, Dobbins and Mastbaum, by a combined score of 77-6, they have a rough road ahead, beginning with Chester.
The Clippers pulled off a stunner in Week 1, downing defending Central League champion Haverford, 24-21, for their first season-opening victory in 16 years. They didn’t fare well last weekend, a horrid outing on the road against Spring-Ford.
It’s hard to learn much about Chester from the Spring-Ford game. The Clippers gave up five first-quarter touchdowns, and whatever gameplan they had devised was considered useless by the end of the period. Quarterback Jamir Green was impressive in the win over Haverford and threw his fourth touchdown pass last week. Devan Freeman leads the team in rushing with 209 yards and two touchdowns.
“They got three or four kids who can run. They have a couple of running backs who I think are really good,” Hogan said. “They’re going to take shots down the field where it’s going to be a 1-on-1 situation and we got to see who comes down with it. Hopefully our kids are in position where they can win those matchups.
“Chester is a scary team. I’ve seen them play both games and they’re a very good football team. They just got good kids. The first quarter is going to be telling, so hopefully we can get off to another good start. We have to be able to move the ball and play field position … and hopefully we can get after them up front. I like our matchup up front. It’s going to come down to who is going to make the most plays.”
And it will be up to Brown, Borcky and the rest of the still-improving O’Hara defensive unit to stop the Clippers come Saturday.
“We have to be focused and stay physical, making sure we go out and everyone does their jobs,” Borcky said. “The key point this week is being physical. We have to carry it over into the game on Saturday.”