Big D: Harrisburg's suffocating defense of Coatesville quarterback Ricky Ortega fuels victory against the Red Raiders

01 December 2018


Harrisburg defense

By Andy Shay: 

Having a bye week to prepare for Coatesville’s offense certainly helped Harrisburg’s defense heading into Saturday's PIAA Class 6A semifinal at Hersheypark Stadium.

It wasn’t like the Cougars didn’t know what they were up against, either. Harrisburg was shoved all over Severance Field in the season opener by the Red Raiders and lost by 31 points.

“After [Week 1] against Ricky Ortega, I felt bad. I really didn’t do anything in that game. I kind of got beat up,” said Harrisburg’s 6-foot-1, 220-pound senior defensive end Dionte Nichols after the Cougars 27-24 victory.

“But I knew we were going to play them again, and I wasn’t going to let myself get bullied again. I told myself that anyone who comes in front of me, they were going to get all my attention.”

The Cougars’ defensive end tandem of Nichols and fellow senior Brian Yates were fabulous all game this time around – holding the edge consistently and turning plays back inside toward the pursuit. And the duo combined for three sacks and two tackles for a loss.

“Our defensive ends played great. For us to limit them to 24 points … that’s the most explosive offense in the state,” Harrisburg coach Calvin Everett said. “Everyone on defense played a great, great football game.”

The key was Harrisburg’s front seven limiting the Red Raiders’ running game to a paltry 75 yards on 43 carries. Interior defensive tackles Jeff Chisholm-Wilkerson and Saquan Carter-Barton were a rock wall the entire 48 minutes, and each recorded a sack.

And Cougars senior linebacker Andre White Jr., a Texas A&M recruit, spied Coatesville’s slick and elusive quarterback Ricky Ortega all game. Ortega finished with 11 yards on 24 carries and was sacked six times.

Ortega did throw for 243 yards and a touchdown, but the Cougars plan was to make him throw the ball to beat you. When the Red Raiders are balanced offensively, they are lethal.

Most of this game Coatesville was forced to play from behind. And the Raiders couldn’t run the ball effectively.

Of the 43 running plays by the Red Raiders, 27 of them went for 3 or fewer yards. That is why the Cougars beat the Red Raiders by a field goal.

“Coatesville’s quarterback is a great player, and our No. 1 goal today was to make him uncomfortable in the pocket. We didn’t want him to sit around in the pocket,” White Jr. said. “We asked our defensive ends and the defensive line to put some pressure on him, and they did. And as soon as he broke out of that pocket, I was on him.”