They’re called the “Death Squad” and as of late they’ve been living up to their name. The Sharyland Rattlers defensive unit’s ominous sounding nickname may at first glance seem to be a bit over the top but the demise of their last three opponents says it all.
With three consecutive shutouts, two in the playoffs, it’s been almost a month since anybody has scored on Sharyland’s defense. The string of 12 consecutive quarters without allowing a score began in the Rattlers’ district finale against Rio Grande City. In that game the Sharyland defense held Rio Grande to only 31 rushing yards and 43 passing yards en-route to a 38-0 win.
The Death Squad’s next victim came in the bi-district round of the playoffs. Edcouch-Elsa mustered up only 106 yards of total offense against the Sharyland D as the Yellowjackets saw their season come to an end by a score of 29-0. After the Rattlers to shutout two Valley teams in a row, it was their most recent 28-0 win over the Corpus Christi Calallen Wildcats, one of the state’s perennial powerhouses, in the Area round of the state playoffs that has given the Death Squad the credibility it deserves.
In his second year as Sharyland’s defensive coordinator, Craig Krell explained the key to their success.
“I think that what’s making us so successful right now is the fact that the kids are buying into what we’re doing,” explained Krell. “They’re understanding the roles they have and they’re executing them. Not every kid is going to make every play, but they’ve bought into the fact that if they do their job it allows somebody else to make a play. They’re doing it well and they’re playing as a team.”
“Our 9-5-90 strategy is something that our defensive line coach Marcelino De la Fuente brought in,” added Krell. “It involves getting nine players within five yards of the ball 90% of the time. That’s what we preach. It’s all about getting to the football because good things are going to happen if somebody misses a tackle or something doesn’t go the way it’s supposed to as long as we have everybody hustling to the football.”
Having advanced into the third round of the playoffs for the third year in a row, the 11-1 Rattlers will be facing off against the 9-3 Cedar Park Timberwolves tonight at Heroes Stadium in San Antonio. With the Timberwolves’ high powered offense that has averaged 55 points over their past five games, Krell knows that it’s going to take a total team effort to keep Cedar Park’s scoring to a minimum.
“Our front seven has been doing a very good job of helping us with the run and putting pressure on the quarterback.” Krell said. “Against an offense like Cedar Park’s it’s going to take a complete effort by all 11 guys every play of the game to keep them in check. The more pressure we can put on them up front the better off we’re going to end up.”
As one of Sharyland’s defensive captains, senior linebacker Rudy Tornero has been instrumental in the Rattlers’ defensive dominance over the past three seasons. When asked what adjustments the Rattlers’ defense will be making to try stopping Cedar Park’s offense Tornero said, “We don’t change much from week to week. We do game plan for each opponent based on their offensive strengths and schemes and we make whatever adjustments we need to make to stop them.”
If the Rattlers win tonight’s game they would be the first Sharyland team to advance to the fourth round of the playoffs. To this Tornero said, “It would mean so much. I’ve been on the varsity since I was a sophomore so I know what it feels like to get to the third round and lose. We all want to make history and we want to make a statement that not only Sharyland but Valley teams can go further in the playoffs.”
Senior defensive end Aaron Serna is another of the Rattlers defensive captains. While he sees the fact that the Timberwolves have been lighting up the scoreboard recently as a challenge, he doesn’t see it being an unsurmountable one.
“It’s going to come down to us playing together and getting to the ball by executing 9-5-90,” said Serna. “Calallen was scoring a lot of points too and so have other teams we’ve played, but we’ve held them so why not Cedar Park too?”
Tonight’s regional round playoff game against Cedar Park is scheduled to kick off at 7:30. It’s being played at Heroes Stadium which is located at 4799 Thousand Oaks Dr. in San Antonio.