Lummi coach Jim Sandusky has a saying he uses when instructing players. He says he wants them to learn how to play football, not a position.
That belief holds extra weight on a Blackhawks defense featuring several players who excel in a multitude of positions.
Based on offensive personnel, a player who’s working in the secondary one play may have his hand in the dirt rushing the quarterback moments later.
Since the Blackhawks began their postseason run three weeks ago, few offenses have found success against Lummi’s defense, and finally through weeks of trial and error the Blackhawks feel they have the right defensive formula to thwart their biggest rival.
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“We have had a good defense all year, but it’s slowly gotten better,” Sandusky said in a phone interview. “We stubbed our toe the first two times against Neah Bay. Some mental mistakes cost us some TDs, guys not doing their assignments. Now we understand that you have to take care of your responsibility, not try to cover for someone else.”
The Blackhawks (10-3) will need their defense to be at its best when Lummi tries to snap a seven-game losing streak to Neah Bay (12-0) when the two Class 1B powers meet in the state semifinals at 4 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 29, at the Tacoma Dome.
Lummi last beat Neah Bay in 2011, and each of the past seven years the two teams will have met in the state playoffs, with the Red Devils winning the past three state meetings after the Blackhawks won in 2010 and 2009.
The Blackhawks’ defense has been a work in progress since Week 1, but the true turning point came a little more than three weeks ago during Lummi’s final regular-season game, a road test against Lopez.
Lummi entered halftime tied at 28, and Sandusky offered his team a challenge.
“I asked them what kind of team they wanted to be,” Sandusky said. “I said, ‘We have to be going in the same direction for us to be successful. A house divided is going to fall.’ Short and sweet, ‘It’s up to you if you guys want to turn this around and do this this game and the rest of the season.’”
During the game’s second half and the last three weeks against Rainier Christian, Lyle and Lopez, Lummi’s No. 1 defense hasn’t given up a touchdown, Sandusky said.
“We kind of have that fire now,” senior defensive back Dino Williams said in a phone interview. “We play with more of that now. It’s the reason we wear the jersey. We’re Blackhawks, and we want to put on a show for everybody.”
Sandusky detailed just how thrilling watching the growth of his defense has been. He couldn’t point to a particular defensive group that’s been better than the rest. Instead, he said collectively it’s been a 10-to-11-man rotation that has the Blackhawks’ defense rolling.
Across the defensive line Jason James, Adam Lawrence, Willie Jones, Jacob Roberts and Enrique Medina have all been big-time contributors. Sandusky raved about how much James has improved this season, becoming one of the team’s most pleasant surprises.
The linebacking corps is a quick, athletic group made up of middle linebacker and defensive captain Hank Hoskins, who Sandusky said can both run and deliver a crippling blow, outside linebacker Devin Cooper, who can track the ball carrier and cover fast receivers with the best. Roberts, who the Lummi coach called the team’s X-factor, also rotates in at linebacker with Austin Brockie.
Williams is one of Lummi’s headliners in the secondary, and the three-year starter brings a wealth of knowledge and veteran leadership to the position. Raven Borsey also plays in the defensive backfield and switches in and out with Roberts. Sandusky said Borsey is a young, fast player who provides excellent run support. All together, with Raven Borsey’s brother, Free Borsey, in the mix, Sandusky has found a successful formula.
The best way Sandusky could describe his defense’s play is saying they play with controlled aggression, meaning Lummi flies to the ball yet isn’t losing track of its assignments.
“Football is a contact sport, and we all like to hit and want to make a big hit and a big play,” Williams said, “but we come and play as a team. You want to play the game and get out what you put in.”
The Blackhawks, who have only given up 22 points in the postseason, are anticipating another strong defensive performance this weekend.
“Do your assignment,” said Williams when asked the key to slowing down Neah Bay. “We didn’t get beat because they overpowered us or are better than us. We had mental mistakes. If we do our assignments, we can come out on top.”