The snarling brutes on the Trinity football team’s defensive line need a game after watching the rest of the playoff picture unfold in the final week of the regular season, the Trojans’ bye. They need a target.
Trinity’s bi-district playoff opponent was decided last week when DeSoto (5-5, 4-2) beat Duncanville to finish ahead of South Grand Prairie (6-4, 3-3) in the final District 8-6A standings. Both of those schools made the Division I bracket, meaning the Trojans (10-0, 6-0 District 7-6A), who moved up to a No. 3 ranking in the latest Associated Press high school football poll, will once again face South Grand Prairie in the first round of the playoffs.
“We stay hungry. We stay ready,” nose tackle Chris Daniels said. “We’re going hard everyday, even in the bye week. Studying film and keeping conditioning up until it’s time.”
Kickoff has been set for 7:30 p.m. at Pennington Field as the University Interscholastic League unveiled a pilot program this season giving higher-seeded Class 6A teams the opportunity to host their first-round playoff games instead of playing at a neutral location.
Last year the game was played at AT&T Stadium, and the Warriors nearly pulled the first-round upset, collecting three interceptions and scoring 22 second-quarter points to force Trinity to make the second-half comeback for a 32-29 win. This year, the Trinity defense has allowed an average of just 13.6 points in five games at Pennington Field.
In those five games, the Trojan run-stoppers have given up only 105.2 yards rushing per contest. Something will have to give in this year’s matchup with South Grand Prairie, as the Warriors’ run-first offense, which has produced more than two-thirds of its offense on the ground, goes toe-to-toe with what Trinity defensive tackle Alex Poole said is the biggest strength of the defense as a whole.
“As linemen we’ve been getting good push in the middle,” Poole said. “And the linebackers are good, they’re able to get to anything that we can’t get.”
And that push in the middle starts with Daniels (6-4, 310), one of the most highly-recruited defensive players in the state of Texas. In September, Daniels narrowed his list of college choices to five: Texas A&M, Alabama, Michigan, Ohio State and Oklahoma. Daniels said he expects to make his final decision on where to attend college sometime after the conclusion of his senior season.
“The focus now is the playoffs,” Daniels said.
As the nose tackle and playing the one-technique on the defensive line, Daniels is positioned on the line in a manner that assumes he will be double-teamed by the opposing center and a guard. Sometimes over the course of the past two seasons, he’s attracted even more attention along the line than that, and the chipping blockers have kept his sack total down to just one this year after he accumulated seven in his junior campaign.
“If they double-team me, someone’s one-on-one,” Daniels said. “And that’s where they’re in trouble.”
For the Trinity coaching staff, keeping the door revolving on the defensive line rotation is more important than any one member’s individual output. The Trojans have 14 spots on the roster filled with defensive linemen.
“We want all-out effort on every snap. But smart effort, too,” Trinity coach Chris Jensen said. “We’ve got enough depth to be fresh out there, so there’s not an excuse for less than 100 percent effort. And that depth also creates competition. They all want to be the guy that coach [Donald] Tryon leaves out there a little longer.”
The idea of the defensive line rotation is to have fresher guys in the trenches than the opponent has available as the game wears on. It’s a big part of what has become Trinity’s identity as a team that wears the opposition down; a big part of why Jensen has repeated the refrain all season that he’s OK with a close game at halftime.
His linemen have been fresher in the third and fourth quarters than the opposition time and time again this season. From going into halftime of the season’s first game down to Concord (Calif.) De La Salle 14-12 to outlasting Southlake Carroll for a 37-35 win late in the year, knowing that the gears will keep turning on the defensive line from whistle to whistle gives this line a even-keel and workmanlike demeanor.
And it’s even helped the members of the D-Line keep perhaps the biggest lesson the Trinity coaching staff wants to instill at the front of their minds.
And that is?
“Be humble, and do right,” tackle Makoni Pole said.
Matthew Martinez: 817-390-7760; Twitter: @MCTinez817