Trying to Apply the Law to SNU's Wardlaw
Defending QB Brady Wardlaw is a Tall Order
BETHANY, Oklahoma -- No more time for prepation games against non-conference foes. Saturday is the real deal for the Lions football team of Southwestern Assemblies of God University. They open their 2010 conference season in the Central States Football League with a foe that has been about as hard as hammering a nail with an egg.
SAGU has traveled to the Oklahoma City suburb of Bethany where they will take on Southern Nazarene University at 2:00pm CST on Saturday. The Lions (1-2) will face SNU (3-2) for the tenth time in Southwestern's short history, with the Crimson Storm's mastery over them standing at eight wins against one loss.
Already looking like the best team in the CSFL this year while scoring almost 45 points per game, the Storm's junior quarterback, Brady Wardlaw, leads the league in total offense, averaging 310 yards per outing. In completing 57% of his passes, he has thrown for 19 touchdowns and averages 261 yards per game passing. The 5-foot-11 point man has also rushed for 235 yards and scored 3 TD's for a team that leads the conference in total offense at 439 yards per game.
Wardlaw more than makes up for his lack of height with great vision, decision-making and an arm that helped him be named All-State at Okeene High School in Oklahoma.
SAGU's reigning All-American linebacker, 6'2, 225-pound senior, Jared Hudgins (Midland, Tx / Midland Christian), admits his defense has a tiger by the tail. "He's probably the best QB we will play against all year," he said on Thursday, a day before his team would travel north of the Red River on the road. "To stop him or at least to slow them down, we are gonna try and take away his options and force him where we want him to go." If its going to be done, it will likely be done with a great showing by Southwestern's stockpile of linebackers.
Last year in Waxahachie, the Lions did a decent job holding Wardlaw in check through three quarters. Southern Naz held a 17-12 lead heading into the final stanza. When the horn sounded the Storm won 31-12 and the sophomore has completed 23 of 42 (55%) for 326 yards and three TD's. He was intercepted once as the Storm rolled. The front four limited him to just seven yards on 17 carries, but he still managed to run for a score.
"He's tough and he's smart," Hudge added. Wardlaw was also named to the CSFL All-Academic team, providing support for his claims.
In that game, SNU racked up 445 yards, and, while SAGU moved the chains to the tune of 328 yards, the Lions' three turnovers were too much to overcome.
The Lions look to their most recent trip to Bethany for encouragement. In 2008 they strode into town and left with a 21-13 victory. Some have called that the biggest victory in school history. SAGU picked up SNU could gain only 314 yards in that game. They did rush for 175 yards, but completed just 9-of-21 passes. The Purple Pride kept the ball away from the Storm's offense, thanks to a rushing attack of 161 yards. Combine that with QB Jason Rice (Katy, Tx / Katy Faith West HS) hitting 24-of-37 tosses for 222 yards in the spread offense, and you can see how the Lions played keep-away. But Wardlaw played only sparingly, rushing for 46 and completing zero of three passes.
What is promising is the knowledge that winning at SNU Stadium is possible, and recent. What is tough is knowing that Rice, who is back at SAGU after a year at Texas State University, is out with an injured knee.
Jeremy Fowler (Caddo Mills, Tx / Caddo Mills HS) faced the Crimson Crew last year as a freshman. He was 13-of-26 in passing for 227 yards, and one TD. He threw zero interceptions.
A key factor could be the strength of the SAGU is their defense. Led by a pair of Pre-Season All-Americans in cornerback Nick Ekanem (Richmond, Tx / B.F. Terry HS) and Hudgins, the Lions may well have what it takes to keep Wardlaw under wraps. Pressure, good coverage and forcing a few turnovers could get through to him.
Defensive Coordinator John Allen and his assistants will try to mix a defense that is rich in talent and athleticism into a giant killer. The Lions linebacking corps are a mix of speed, strength and saavy. Quentin Holloman (Garland, Tx / Sachse HS), Dante Embry (Paris, Tx / Paris HS) and Hudgins are loaded for bear on the inside. The outside 'Backers range in size and quickness. Brad Heathcock (Frisco, Tx / Wakeland HS) is a missile on the edge, while Alex Moore (Breckenridge, Tx / Breckenridge HS) is boot-strap tough.
The Lions bring in senior Derek Brewer (Denton, Tx / Denton Guyer HS), a salty veteran who is strong enough to play defensive end. Then there's Jacob Kirksey (Fort Smith, Ark / Southside HS), a rangy, 6-foot-3 freshman. He has the wingspan of an albatross has shown himself to be a playmaker in the early games. Gevoni Eley (St. Louis, Mo / Maplewood R.H. HS) has a similar build as Kirksey, and has been on the field as oft as any of the situational LB's.
It is the deepest position on the team, and LB Coach Shane Wheeler rotates a myriad of combinations to give the offense a different look when trying to read the defense. Nathan Kallal (Brighton, Ill / Southwestern HS) is difficult to keep off the field. He's lays hard hits similar to Holloman and Embry. Darrius Willburn (Mesquite, Tx / Howard Payne University / Mesquite HS) is an athletic load to defend, while Kendal Evers (Danbury, Tx / Danbury HS) is another in Allen's linebacking unit who are more in the role of a hybrid safety. In fact, he will refer to this position as strong safety when they are matched up against tight ends.
"We actually have a lot of confidence goin in," Hudgins added. "We still haven't played our best football yet so we are lookin forward to playing our best for all four quarters. And if we do that, we think we can shut-down anyone."
The only team to do that was Eastern New Mexico University (2-2) in the season opener. They limited Wardlaw to 14-of-38 passes for a scant 119 yards, 1 TD and four interceptions. The Greyhounds (NCAA Division II), who trailed in the second quarter, 21-14, dominated after halftime. They sacked Wardlaw five times. The Lions know they do not have to stop Wardlaw, but rather, to contain him.
Plus, SAGU must produce enough points to take preesure off of their own defense. With Fowler passing and the running of halfback Eddie Bailey, Jr. (Milwaukee, Wisc / John Jay HS), the Lions have the weapons, albeit young at the skill positions, to spring an upset.
The Hounds hosted the game in which they had over two hours of weather delays. Sophomore QB Wesley Woods threw for 391 yards and seven TD's against the Storm.
SNU Crimson Storm 2010 Season
L 21-59 at Eastern New Mexico
W 63-17 St. Mary's (Kansas)
W 70-0 at Haskell (Ks)
W 42-18 at Bethel (Ks)
L 27-69 Southwest Baptist