At the beginning of the football season, the strong suit for Maplewood was obviously its high-powered offense, highlighted by super tailback LaDarius Vanlier.
Since the playoffs have started, the Panthers have turned to an old friend — defense — as they make their way to a second straight Class 4A semifinal appearance Friday night.
Vanlier, a Mr. Football back finalist, has, in fact, made a major impact.
On Thanksgiving, though, Maplewood coach Arcentae Broome is very thankful for his rapidly improving defense, which has stormed to the forefront. The unit has allowed three playoff foes a total of just 19 points.
Consequently, the Panthers (10-3) head into the Friday night Class 4A semifinals at home against Covington (11-2), power from the western part of the state.
“Before the season, we thought our pass defense would be one of our biggest concerns,” Broome, who is trying to guide Maplewood to its first state final since 2007, said. “In the playoffs, it has turned into one of our biggest strengths.”
In last week quarterfinals, Maplewood became the first team this season to hold White House scoreless (31-0).
The Devils averaged more than 30 points a game and had scored 71 points in two previous playoff games. Maplewood held them to just 167 yards total offense and intercepted three passes, two in the red zone.
“Since the CPA game, we’ve had more of a bend but don’t break type of defense,” Broome said. “And even though we lost to Pearl-Cohn, our defense played well.”
Junior defensive back Kenny Robertson, who has five interceptions (all in the postseason), has been a catalyst for that revival.
“He has really stepped his game up,” Broome said.
On offense running back Denzel Jones stepped in against White House scored three touchdowns and rushed for 108 yards after Vanlier sustained a shin injury in the first quarter.
“He’s fine, and he’s good to go [Friday],” Broome said of Vanlier. “We just didn’t want to take any chances with him, especially with how well our defense was playing.”
Vanlier had 34 yards in eight carries before the injury, leaving him just short of the coveted 2,000-yard rushing mark for the season. He has run for 1,986 yards and 21 touchdowns.
To get to finals — and a possible rematch with defending state champ Greeneville, which eliminated Maplewood in last year’s semifinals — Maplewood needs to topple Covington.
“As I told my team after last week’s game, we’ve gotten to a ‘been there, done that,’ plateau, we need to cross that line and get to the finals,” Broome said. “Covington’s a very good team, they run a wing-T with a lot of very good athletes.
“It will be a challenge for our defense.”
• The only other Nashville team in action Friday is Christ Presbyterian Academy (12-1), which makes a trip to Milan (12-1) in the Class 3A semifinal.
• The annual LeRoy Wright Invitational tournament opened Tuesday night at Cane Ridge High.
In the boys game, Whites Creek edged host Cane Ridge 67-64 as Robert Jarmon scored 26 points. Lebanon beat Whites Creek 74-35 in the girls game, despite Alexis Lang’s 22 points.
The tournament runs through Saturday.