By BRET H. MCCORMICK, Journal Sports
Thomas Bachman has been bragging about his team’s improved defense to anyone who will listen.
The Alexandria Senior High Trojans (8-4) backed up their coach’s praise Friday night with their most complete performance of the season, shutting out No. 4 seed Brother Martin 23-0 to advance to the quarterfinals of the Division I Select football playoffs.
Bachman said the Trojans “played really well defensively,” and that started with the game plan devised by defensive coordinator Josh Mercer and the defensive staff.
“They had ‘em ready to go,” Bachman said. “We’ve just gotten better and better and better. (Brother Martin) didn’t threaten us really but twice.”
The two players who changed the trajectory of the Trojans’ defense made two of the biggest game-changing plays on the night.
Senior cornerbacks Jaylin Johnson and Amyrion Mingo, who moved over to defense from wide receiver after the start of the season, intercepted passes in the game. Johnson’s pick was near the goal line late in the first half to keep the Crusaders (7-4) out of the end zone and off the scoreboard, while Mingo’s came late in the fourth quarter to set up ASH’s final score and seal the shutout.
“We always know we have the capability of (getting a shutout),” said Mingo, who had a first-half interception wiped away by a questionable pass-interference penalty. “We were just locked in.”
The first half was a defensive slugfest that featured only three points as each team was held to less than 100 yards of offense.
ASH held a slim 3-0 lead at the break thanks to a 25-yard field goal by senior Bodie Van Dyke.
The Crusaders came into Friday night’s contest carrying a resume that showcased a strong defense, and that was certainly the case for most of the night, especially against the run as they held Trojan junior running back JT Lindsey in check for three quarters.
But the Trojans started to show some offensive life immediately in the third quarter, as they took the opening drive of the second half 80 yards on 11 plays for their first touchdown.
The drive’s two biggest plays came courtesy of senior quarterback Ty Feaster, who played a brilliantly efficient game with his arm and feet, connecting with junior receiver Darius Washington, the Trojans’ biggest weapon Friday night.
Feaster and Washington connected on a 15-yard pass play on the drive, and then that duo connected on a 32-yard go route for a touchdown and a 10-0 Trojan lead.
In the fourth quarter, as Brother Martin continued to bottle up Lindsey and limit him to 2 or 3 yards per carry, Feaster began to pick up chunks in the ground game – 6 yards here, 4 yards there – until he finally popped a big one.
Starting a drive at their own 30, Feaster nearly delivered a home run for the Trojans as he kept on the read option and raced up the middle of the field for a 63-yard gain inside the Crusaders’ 10-yard line. Two plays later, Lindsey scored his first TD of the game from 8 yards out for a 16-0 lead.
Mingo’s interception and return into Brother Martin territory on the next drive set up a Lindsey 21-yard touchdown to seal the victory for the Trojans.
Lindsey and Feaster both surpassed the 100-yard rushing mark as Lindsey gained 111 tough yards and two touchdowns on 31 carries and Feaster added 107 yards on 13 carries.
Bachman said even though the Crusaders played well defensively against the run, the Trojans were committed to continuing to churn up yards on the ground.
“We had 45 rushing attempts the other night,” Bachman said. “You can stay committed to it when your defense is playing that well.
Feaster finished 10-of-15 passing for 161 yards and one touchdown toss to Washington, who caught seven passes for 69 yards. Junior tight end Tanner Townsend finished with two receptions for 86 yards.
While the Trojan offense finished the job, the story of the game was the lights-out execution of ASH’s defense, which limited the Crusaders to 98 yards rushing on the game and harassed junior quarterback Seth Dazet into a 7-for-19 passing performance for 67 yards and two interceptions.
Senior linebacker Omarion Ford led the Trojans with seven tackles in the game, and Jaylon Kirk finished with six tackles and a tackle for loss. The Trojans sacked Dazet twice in the game and pressured him all night.
Mingo said the Trojans played well at all three levels defensively, boosted by the return of senior free safety Jason Blackwell, who Mingo said showed he is a weapon defending the run and the pass.
“He adds more value to our defense, which really eliminates a lot of weaknesses,” Mingo said. “I don’t think we really have any weaknesses in our defense.”
The 13th-seeded Trojans advanced to face No. 5 Edna Karr in next week’s Division I Select quarterfinals. Karr defeated Woodlawn of Baton Rouge 50-0 in the second round.
The Trojans proved last week they are capable of going on the road and beating one of the best teams in the Catholic League. Now they get a chance to do it again against the league champions.
“We always feel confident,” Mingo said. “We know what we have and what we are capable of.”