Juma Otoviano and Daquaylyn Thomas are linebackers, but a more apt description of the Martin duo might be masters of mayhem. Otoviano, Thomas and their defensive teammates left recent playoff opponent Amarillo reeling by forcing a flurry of turnovers.
The Warriors forced four fumbles in a 49-27 6A Division I area round victory against the Sandies on Nov. 20 — and three of those turnovers led to Martin touchdowns. The Warriors advanced to play undefeated Allen in a regional round playoff game Friday at AT&T Stadium, a 36-11 loss.
“Coaches really impress on us taking the ball away: interceptions, forced fumbles,” said Thomas, who forced one of those four fumbles against Amarillo. “We work on it every day. We know when it comes to a game we’re at least going to force one turnover.”
All defenses try to create turnovers, but Martin places a special emphasis on taking the ball away from opponents. “Aside from the final score, there is no more important statistic than takeaways, in my opinion,” Martin coach Bob Wager said after a Monday afternoon practice leading up to the Allen game. “They don’t happen by accident.”
Every Martin practice includes a turnover circuit — a session focused on the art of forcing and recovering loose balls, intercepting passes and blocking kicks.
“We’ve been focused on creating turnovers,” Thomas said. “We focus on ripping the ball out, punching the ball out, blocking kicks — things like that.”
Otoviano, a sophomore who has also seen time this season at running back, recovered a fumble at the Amarillo 32 in the first quarter to set up a touchdown run by senior quarterback Eric Walker. Moments later, Otoviano forced another turnover on a blindside hit on Sandies quarterback Jack Preston.
Otoviano’s teammate Montrell Smith returned that fumble 71 yards for the score, increasing the Warriors’ lead to 22-0. “It was a blitz,” Otoviano said. “The quarterback had his back towards me and I just came up from behind him, hit him hard. He coughed up the ball from behind. He fumbled it, and our guy scooped it up and scored.”
The defense wasn’t done doing damage to their opponent. In the second half against Amarillo, Martin thwarted a likely Sandies touchdown with another well-timed turnover. D’Juan Wilson of Martin recovered an Amarillo fumble forced at the Martin 1-yard line.
That fumble recovery by Wilson turned into a 14-point swing in Martin’s favor when Walker and receiver Cortlandt Brooks connected on a 99-yard touchdown on the first play of the ensuring Warriors drive.
“I was watching from the sideline, but it was pretty sweet,” Otoviano said of the long touchdown. “It was a fly route. The receiver jumped up and got it over the defender and took it in for six.”
Thomas, who also played running back this season, said there’s no magic to manufacturing turnovers, especially in pressure-packed situations. “When the moment presents itself, you have to make a play,” he said.