In Rock Island’s two losses this season, they’ve given up a total of 100 points — 48 to Edwardsville in their second game, and 52 to Quincy in Game 5.
Considering the Rocks were just 3-2 after that defeat at Quincy, it’s fair to say many fans (OK, and sports writers, too) were wondering if that Rock Island “D” was ever going to develop.
But one thing stood out week after week in interviews with Rock Island coach Bryan Stortz — he had faith in his defense.
Now as we head into the regular-season final, it’s much easier to see why he had that faith. The Rocks are 6-2. They’ve given up 34 points total in the last three games, all wins. And in their six wins, they’ve never given up more than 14. As for Quincy and Edwardsville? Like the Rocks, they are playoff bound.
It’s pretty clear now, Stortz viewed it — as perhaps all high school football should be — as a work in progress.
It really goes back to the offseason, he said, when a decision was made to simplify the Rocks' defense, so “our kids would be able to play faster and a little bit more confident,” he said. “But it also put the kids that we have in a position to be successful.”
Changes in the Rocks' 3-4 defense were worked on over the summer. Things were definitely simplified.
“Being able to just do some small things better and better instead of just doing a lot of things,” said Stortz. “Early we just weren’t overly confident or proficient at everything we needed to do.“
Stortz believed his defense was steadily improving, though. And it was apparently noticed by other coaches. Before the Moline-Rock Island game, Maroons’ coach Mike Tracey talked about how he feared the quickness of the Rocks' front seven.
At that point, coming off the 52 points the Rocks gave up to Quincy, it was hard to believe. But Tracey insisted.
So did the Rocks that night, holding the Maroons to 14 in a rout.
The Quincy game was kind of a wake-up call, it would appear, even if Quincy running back Jirehl Brock may be the best player the conference has seen in quite a while.
“That made us come together more,” outside linebacker Mario Forrest said. “It just made us play harder. A lot of (the development) has been coming together and playing together instead of arguing with each other.”
The team got more used to the defense added Forrest, a 6-foot-2, 185-pound senior who has played well all season. “As the weeks go on, we go over it more and more,” he said.
With an offense that has scored 322 points (more than 40 per game), and put on quite a show doing so, it’s all made for quite a regular season for the 6-2 Rocks, even while finishing second to Quincy in the Western Big Six.
Development, patience and building confidence have all been factors.
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“You’ve got to understand that your kids have got to be confident,” Stortz said. “We were trying to keep every player’s skill set small in able to get them to be confident in what they’re supposed to do and where they line up and how they execute that and then learn how to play together as a group.
“We just have stuck with what we believe will make our kids successful and the kids are buying into it.
It helps that they see the results, he added.
“I think they’re starting to see on the field the fruit of their labor,” Stortz said. “They’re doing a great job in practice, studying the film and being able to see it happen. They are just starting to come together. And that’s good to see at this point in the season.”
Rocks facing former Packer: The offensive coordinator of West Allis Central High School is former Green Bay Packer All-Pro tight end and two-time Super Bowl participant Mark Chmura.
West Allis Central (4-4) plays the Rocks at Rock Island Public Schools Stadium on Thursday at 7 p.m. Chmura played eight seasons in the NFL, made three pro bowls, and caught 188 passes in his career, 17 for touchdowns.
No Tracey this week: Moline coach Mike Tracey announced before the season began that he would not be on hand to coach Moline’s last game at Normal due to his only daughter getting married this weekend. The rehearsal is Friday.
It’s the first game he’s ever missed in his career, Tracey said. Give him credit for making the right call on this one. Coaches’ kids lose plenty of quality dad time over the years, especially those that are the daughter of a football coach.
Tracey said defensive coordinator Chris Dillie is the man in charge Friday with Dillie heading up the defense and Mike Morrissey calling the offense. Tracey also said he has not made any decision yet on his coaching plans for next year.