Entering the 2015 season, defense was hardly viewed as a strength for the Dallastown football team.
It had a total of three returning starters from the 2014 York-Adams Division I title team and was in a tight spot, having to move a lot of guys around into new positions. Fast forward ahead through three weeks of the season and the narrative on this group has made a complete 180. Not only is defense no longer a problem for the unbeaten Wildcats, but it's becoming their identity.
"We felt that we'd be OK, but to have two shutouts back-to-back, I never really expected that," Head Coach Kevin Myers said.
Numbers never lie: Through the first three games, the Dallastown defense has shined. Numbers don't tell the entire story, but they can certainly tell a lot of it, and so far, they tell a pretty good tale about how dominant the Wildcats are on defense.
Dallastown has only allowed 14 points all year and, as Myers mentioned, haven't given up any since Week 1. That's a shutout streak that spans more than 100 minutes and has the team's scoring defense at the top of the 23-team York-Adams League, surrendering just 4.7 points per game. Dallastown also ranks fourth in both rushing defense, allowing 110.3 yards per game and just 3.8 yards per carry, and fourth in turnover differential, with a plus-three margin that includes four takeaways. It's also a unit that sits in seventh in total defense, allowing 268.7 yards per game.
The only aspect where the Dallastown defense doesn't rank in the league's top 10 is in passing defense, where it's 18th. However, even then the Wildcats are only allowing 158.3 yards per game through the air, which is mostly because teams have to throw on them more to try to come from behind.
Defense leads to offense: While the defense is preventing points, it's also making an impact on Dallastown's offense.
Playing with a strong defense is making the job of the Wildcats' offense a little easier. Dallastown ranks seventh in points scored per game, averaging 23.7. That's more than plenty for a defense that is giving up fewer than five points per game, but the strong defense is also freeing up the offense to do even more when it has the ball.
"(The defense) definitely plays into some decision making during the game," Myers said. "On fourth downs, if you're playing defense well, you take that extra fourth down and take a shot for first down. If you're playing well on defense, you're more likely to take that chance."
Simple approach: There's nothing complicated to Dallastown's approach. The mentality is to just get as many guys around the ball carrier as possible and hopefully make something big happen.
"We just want everyone — getting all 11 guys — to get around the ball," senior Jake Jansen said. "Because, if everyone's around the ball, there's more chances of causing a fumble or something big happening."
So far, it's worked.
Just twice this year has an opponent's drive ended in points — the two touchdown drives that Lancaster Catholic put together in Week 1. Since then, it's been nothing but shutout ball for the Wildcats.
Officially, the team has only come away with four takeaways. But, if you factor in the numerous fourth-down stops the defense has come up with, it has a knack for coming up with the big plays at the key times.
Take the West York game in Week 2 for example. In that game alone, Dallastown stopped the Bulldogs on fourth down six times, including one drive when West York had two chances to tie the game at 7-7 from the Wildcats' 1-yard line.
"Defense wins championships": In an era of football when high-octane offenses are all the rage, there's nothing glamorous about the way Dallastown plays football. On offense, it pounds the football, running an option offense that changes from year-to-year based on the personnel.
But the Wildcats pride themselves on their defense, carrying a mind set that every play is bigger than the last, no matter what happened. There's never a time on defense when Dallastown feels as though it's out of a series against its opponents, regardless of how well a team is moving the ball or where it is on the field.
The Wildcats may not light up the scoreboard every single week like some of their opponents, although they can if they want. Their primary focus is on two numbers: points for and points against, and as long as those numbers stay in their favor, they're completely fine with not winning games in the "sexy" fashion.
The old saying goes: "Defense wins championships." It's something that Myers whole-heartedly believes to be true.
"It comes down to defense wins championships. Plain and simple," he said. "You go back and look at the guys that win the division, guys that win districts and then state titles, they have solid defenses."
— Reach Patrick Strohecker at firstname.lastname@example.org; follow on Twitter @P_Strohecker.