“Black Hat” defense is a nickname associated with the Douglas High football program dating back more than 20 years.
The term refers to ornery, often under-sized, defensive players who swarm to the ball and get their helmets on it to make a play. No matter what the score or situation, those guys always showed up and played hard-nosed football. In the beginning, there was even a black cowboy hat hanging in the school’s weight room that was awarded weekly to a player who epitomized that philosophy.
“We started the Black Hat back when we had a limited amount of kids and we had to hang our hat on a philosophy that we could stay in games by playing great defense,” said defensive ends coach Steve Wilcox, whose ties to the program date to the mid-1970s. “The key to defense is reading and reacting. You can teach that, and the rest is up to the kids. You don’t need to have a lot of talent, you’ve just got need to play with desire ... you have to play like your hair’s on fire.”
On Friday night, a new chapter of that tradition was written by a Douglas defensive unit that showed the way to a critical 26-16 Sierra League victory at home against Bishop Manogue.
The win could be described as season-saving in terms of the Tigers’ postseason prospects, and the defensive effort began with a front instrumental in limiting Miners to 68 yards rushing on the night — 14 in the second half — nearly 100 yards below Manogue’s season average coming into the game.
For Douglas (1-2 league, 2-6 overall), hats off to the primary front line in its 4-3 scheme — Zach Singer (6-foot-1, 195 pounds) and Wyatt Eichhorst (5-10, 165) at the ends; Andrew Jensen (6-2, 225), who plays both tackle and end; along with bookend tackles Zach Kinder (6-1, 240) and Zachary Moehle-Boston (6-0, 240). That group is supported by Chris Eshe, Lapolian Rose and Ian Kendrick, who rotate in off the bench,
“We have no problem rotating those guys,” Wilcox said. “We don’t lose a step with any of them.”
So, what exactly is the Black Hat Defense?
“I would say Black Hat Defense is just about hitting people hard and playing with good technique,” Kinder explained. “We do that, and that’s why we stop the run.”
Added Eichhorst: “One hundred percent at all times.”
Douglas has been tough against the run all season, for the most part, as the Tigers have held four of eight opponents to less than 100 rushing yards.
McQueen did exceed 300 yards in Week 2 — 125 of which came on three plays — behind a physical offensive line.
“It was a real challenge to try and hold our ground against those guys,” Moehle-Boston said of the Lancers. “They had the size but they also had speed and strength, which is what we usually rely on because we’re not that big.”
The Manogue Miners, on the other hand, only managed an average of 2.72 yards per carry on Friday. Ten plays resulted in negative yardage, including five quarterback sacks. The Miners scored one of their touchdowns on an interception return.
Linebacker Cale Kynett was in on two sacks in the first half, with Singer helping on one of those, while linebackers Kaleb Foster and Kyle Adams were in on one each in the second half. The last sack came when Jensen ran down quarterback Jack Sanders from behind for a 5-yard loss on a second-and-7 play from the Douglas 41, with 3:16 to play and the Tigers protecting a 13-10 lead.
“It’s about hitting the edge hard and just finishing,” Singer said.
As an extra bonus, Kinder realized a defensive lineman’s dream-come-true when he recovered a loose ball off a mishandled snap in the end zone to score the game-clinching touchdown with 1:37 left to play. It was his first high school touchdown.
“This front seven plays as well as any front group I’ve ever coached, either here or in San Diego,” Wilcox said, referring to the line and linebackers. “I think our three linebackers, collectively, are the best in the league. Rod (Smalley, defensive coordinator) has done a great job with those guys.”
The bottom line for the Black Hats is a team effort — 11 hats swarming to the ball.
“You’ve got to play with 11 guys,” Wilcox said. “And we took some giant strides toward in the Manogue game. That’s the way we want to play all the time.”