TRION, Ga. — Justin Brown is a first-year football head coach but admits he's quite old-school.
Brown's 8-2 Trion Bulldogs are a reflection of their coach, and though they don't do anything fancy, a defense-first philosophy gives them a realistic shot at the program's first state playoff win since 2002.
"My thinking is, if you keep people from scoring, you have a chance," the former Trion player said. "Our staff this year has done a great job of putting people in the right places and making sure they know their assignments. We're a little deeper on offense, and that's allowed us to sub out more with our two-way players on that side. We rarely sub on defense."
The Bulldogs, who travel to Irwin County (7-3) in the opener of the Class A public school playoffs Friday, have given up just over 100 yards a game rushing and 75 passing and are allowing 10 points per game. They've forced an average of two turnovers per game and have allowed very few big plays.
All this without a player with more than 75 tackles and a unit that's gotten little hype.
"It's definitely a team thing," senior linebacker/fullback and three-year starter Kingston Lanier said. "We don't have any superstars. We just do what we do and get after people. It starts with Coach Brown. He's been preaching to us all year about being physical, and we've listened."
The key to the defensive success is a large line that includes Cody Brown, Daulton Hegwood and Eman Wooten. Linebackers Lanier, Luke Gilliland, Chandler Lathem and freshman Maleek Martin clean up behind them. Cornerbacks Scotty Lively and Ryan Roach, who rarely have to cheat up to help the run defense, have combined to intercept eight passes.
Keeping the unit fresh has paid off in several fourth-quarter comeback wins, including outscoring Christian Heritage and Whitefield Academy a combined 33-0 in the Bulldogs' last two games.
"We've been able to wear teams down in the second half, and keeping our defensive guys fresh is a big key," Brown said. "We'll have to play our best game of the season Friday, because if we miss a tackle against these guys, they will score."
Lively, for one, enjoys the team's underdog status this week and realizes what it would mean to end the program's long playoff win drought.
"People have been picking against us all year, so that's worked out so far," he said. "Being a senior and being able to prolong my last year would be great, too. Why not take it all the way?"
Lindsey Young is a sports writer at the Chattanooga Times Free Press who started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press 24 years ago. He covers the Northwest Georgia prep beat and NASCAR. Lindsey’s hometown is Ringgold, Ga., and he graduated from Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe High School. He received an associate’s degree from Dalton Junior College (now Dalton State) and a bachelor’s degree in communications from UTC. He has won several writing awards, including two Tennessee Sports ...