As the saying goes, the heart of a good defense is the play of the linebackers.
It’s quite that way at David Lipscomb, especially in view of how well linebackers Mitchell Tenpenny, Evan Webb and Michael Saggio are locking in on tackles and creating havoc for Mustang football foes.
“We’re all very close and we’re happy regardless of who makes the tackle,’’ said Tenpenny, the lone senior of the trio. “The coaches have given us great game plans every week, putting us in the right place so that we can do our jobs.’’
The Mustangs, ranked No. 2 in the AP state 3A poll behind only 10-0 Knox Catholic, blitzed McNairy Central 35-7 in their playoff opener. They next host region foe Marshall County (8-3) Friday night.
“We lost a lot of seniors from last year, and not many people thought we’d have this much success,’’ said Webb, a junior. “We wanted to go out and prove that we have one of the best defenses at Lipscomb in recent years.’’
Point proven. Lipscomb (10-1) is No. 2 in the state in points allowed in all classes with just 53 given up. That goes with five shutouts, and six if one counts the game against Stratford where a safety was given up in a 34-2 win, not the fault of the defense.
Only Memphis Melrose in Class 4A, with 44 points allowed after its playoff shutout win last week, is ahead of Lipscomb. Hunters Lane is up there too, with 65 allowed, best for 5A in Nashville.
“What’s so good is that we have some new drills, new goals every day,’’ said the 6-3, 200-pound Saggio, a junior. “Who can get the most picks (interceptions), most fumble recoveries, goals like that. We go hard every play until the whistle blows.’’
“The defense has been one of our biggest surprises,’’ said Glen McCadams, in his 26th year as Lipscomb coach. “Our linebackers have been outstanding, Mitchell moved to outside linebacker where he’s been equally effective.’’
Not surprisingly, the three are the top three tackle leaders on the team. Saggio leads with 90, with Webb (78) and Tenpenny (77) close behind.
Saggio has three interceptions – tied for the team lead with DBs Zach Rogers, Jeremy Holt and Clark Tomberlin – and a fumble recovery. Saggio returned one of his picks for a 32-yard TD.
“Our secondary, where we lost three of our four starters, has been very good, too. And our defensive line, especially Brandon Cannon, has been superb,’’ McCadams said.
Webb leads the Mustangs with 3½ sacks and seven tackles for loss. Tenpenny and Saggio have four tackles for loss. And Tenpenny has two fumble recoveries and one interception.
“We’re all happy for each other, no matter who makes the tackle, whoever has a big game,’’ Webb said. “As for the playoffs, it’s like coach Mac says, it’s time to get that big snowball running down the hill. We all want that big gold ball (state title).’’
“It’s great to have such good kids who all get along so well, they’re fun to work with,’’ said 14th-year defensive coordinator Scott Tillman, a nose guard and offensive tackle in Alabama high school football. “But coach Mac is the one who deserves the credit.’’
No matter who gets the credit, it’s all added up to one of Lipscomb’s best defenses ever.