Long known for its spread offense and prolific quarterbacks, Southlake Carroll's defense has the Dragons edging closer and closer to its first trip to a state championship game since Hal Wasson took over as coach in 2007.
After spotting Arlington Bowie 17 first-half points last week, Carroll's defense rose up and shut out the Volunteers in the second half to win 21-17.
Shutting down opponents after intermission has been a postseason trend for the Dragons, who appear to relish the pressure. Carroll (13-0) has outscored playoff teams Plano East, Cedar Hill and Bowie 45-8 in the second half, and 17-0 in the fourth quarter.
"I think we've finally started to click as a defense and understand the speed of the game for one, and just the scheme of the offenses," senior linebacker Will Davis said. "The playoffs always seem to set a different mindset for a team and that has been a big key to our performance."
The Dragons are playing their best defense of the season, giving up almost 100 yards less per game than in the regular season. The secondary has allowed only one touchdown pass and none since the third quarter of the first round against Plano East.
The defense is operating as a unit, knowing that if it holds up its end of the bargain it can trust dual-threat quarterback Kenny Hill and the offense to make enough plays to win, as the Dragons did last week against Bowie.
"We knew the offense was going to come out and perform in the second half, and we needed some key stops," Davis said of the Bowie game. "We knew it was on us to get those stops, and we really just came out extremely fired up in that second half and we performed very well."
Standing in Carroll's playoff path is 12-1 Arlington Martin, which is fresh off a 19-7 upset of nationally ranked Euless Trinity. It will be strength on strength when the Dragons and Warriors meet a Class 5A Division I state quarterfinal at 6 p.m. Saturday at SMU's Gerald J. Ford Stadium.
Martin has been just as stingy in the final quarter of each playoff game, outscoring opponents 49-0.
"They're a pretty physical team," Carroll defensive back Sabian Holmes said. "They're going to try and check us early and see what we have. There's only one thing we could do and that's respond."
Many of the seniors on defense have played together since they were seventh-graders and watched Carroll win its last state title in 2006.
"The tradition here is really just about laying it down every day at practice," Davis said. "Just knowing that you're going to battle every Friday or Saturday with your brothers that you've been working for your whole life. It's just a culture created here."