The Barbers Hill defense has come up big this year holding six of its last nine opponents to a touchdown or less thanks to the performances by players like Connor McNally, 64, and Josh King-Bradley, 48. (Photo by Valerie Hull)

Words ranging from edgy to nasty, athletic to talented to just plain good have been used to describe the Barbers Hill football team’s defense this season.

It’s a defense that has sparked the Eagles longest playoff run as a Class 5A program.

They have allowed 195 in 12 games for an average of 16.25 per game, but that is misleading considering that since District 12-5A II started, the Eagles have suffocated the opposition to the tune of 94 points in nine contests or about 10.5 per outing.

That includes seven games of allowing 14 points or less, six of seven points of fewer and pitching three shutouts.

Now the defense faces its biggest challenge at noon Friday when the Eagles (11-1) take on Manvel (12-0) in a Class 5A-II Region 3 semifinal at NRL stadium against the same team that lit it up in a 62-42 bi-district win over Barbers Hill a year ago.

“We’re older and it’s the same kids that played last year,” Barbers Hill head coach Tom Westerberg said. “They are playing better and that’s what it is: The maturity factor.”

The Eagles struggled a bit in last week’s 47-24 win over Whitehouse in the area round of the playoffs, giving up all 24 points before halftime.

“They did a good job,” Westerberg said. “We made some adjustments after Whitehouse had 108 yards rushing in the first half. We talk about eye control a lot and we had bad eyes on a 42-yard run and he knew he did wrong. That’s a key to our group: They are mature and when they make a mistake they admit it and we correct it and we go on.”

The defensive line has gotten plenty of notice for its ability to attack the passing attack of the other team and not allow the quarterback to settle in.

“They are pretty athletic and they are coached pretty well,” Westerberg said. “They enjoy playing and they enjoy studying what to do to get better. We are disruptive. We don’t have the biggest guys up there, but we sure move them well enough to create a little havoc back there when they try to throw the football.”

Josh King-Bradley, Ramsey Humphrey, Isiah Marcel and Connor McNally are some of those players who have lit the line’s play up to meteoric levels.

“Other than three defensive linemen the rest of our defense came back and were mostly seniors,” King-Bradley said. “We have gotten closer and spent the whole offseason together. The closer you are, the better you are going to play and trust each other.”

The linebacking corps has done its fair share of the heavy lifting which includes Cavin Brannin who was named the district’s defensive MVP and he is paired with Rex Thompson and Kade McCall to name a few.

“Those guys have played pretty well,” Westerberg said. “For what we do, they have to play a lot of roles and they do a great job of fitting in. We talk about buy in all the time and we pointed out things we needed to get better at and did things different in the offseason. Each class has bought in more and more.”

The secondary, including safety Branden Heffernan and corners Josh Bishop and Ashton Hanby will have their “work cut out for them” against Manvel, according to Westerberg.

“They are going to be one of the faster teams we’ve gone against, so we will see where we stand after Friday.”

Good special teams playing is also a trademark of Westerberg’s teams.

“They’ve done a great job in all phases of it,” Westerberg said. “From the defensive side of it, we have pressured punters, blocked punters and forced punters to drop balls and be nervous back there. That’s been a big key. In kickoffs and kickoff returns we haven’t been as good as we have been in the past.”

It will all be put to the test at NRG Stadium on Friday.

“We are feeling motivated and glad we are the underdogs,” King-Bradley said. “We were all there last year and we got cleaned up. I got cleaned up bad. We have learned from it and here we are again.”


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