17DefenseThe heroics of Terry Sanford’s potent passing combination of Christian Jayne to Andrew Jayne have made headlines all year for the Terry Sanford football team.

But in the closing weeks of the regular season, when the Bulldogs finally broke clear from the pack in the Patriot Athletic Conference and won the league’s first football championship, it was defense that made the difference.

In key wins over South View, Pine Forest and E.E. Smith, the Bulldog defense stood especially  tall in the second half, limiting the opposition to a touchdown or less in each game.

Among the biggest reasons behind that are Terry Sanford’s versatile starting safeties, Garren Elliott and Dante Bowlding.

First-year Terry Sanford coach Bruce McClelland said Bowlding and Elliott provided critical moving pieces in what he described as an amoeba-like defense that let Terry Sanford take advantage of matchups and frustrate opposing offenses.

“They are both so physical and play with their hands so well it allowed us to shoot them down to linebacker positions,’’ McClelland said.

But both Bowlding and Elliott are quick to add that the reason for Terry Sanford’s success involves more than game strategy.

“It’s not just a team, it’s a brotherhood,’’ Bowlding said. “If we have each other’s back, we can go out and accomplish anything.’’

Elliott agreed. “With the chemistry we have, it really fell into place,’’ he said. “We all love each other, and we’re going to play for each other.’’

McClelland thinks the strong bond the team has is an extension of the relationship he enjoys with his assistant coaches, who he was on the staff with as an assistant before he was promoted
to head coach.

“I know the kids see the relationship the coaching staff has (with) each other,’’ he said. “Everybody on this staff is knowledgeable. They take a back seat to no one and can coach with anyone.

“These young men sensed that, and I think it grew with them and made them closer team-mates.’’

Elliott and Bowlding also sensed the presence McClelland brings to the head coaching position, and it’s a good one.

“We all love Coach Mac to death,’’ Elliott said. “We’re going to play our hardest for him. To see him smile at how good we’re doing, it’s like a blessing for everybody on this whole team.’’

“When we’re on the field, he’s always joking,’’ Bowlding said. “It’s always good to be out there on the field, having fun.’’

Terry Sanford drew the No. 4 seed for the Eastern 3-A bracket, which likely means if the Bulldogs can keep winning they’ll get at least two home games in the postseason.

“Having success in the playoffs is doing the same thing we’ve done all year,’’ McClelland said. “It helps that these guys have been in playoff runs the last two years.

“We’re an even-keeled group. It’s just taking that same approach, not cutting a corner, making sure we’re watching film and doing the same things that got us here. It’s kind of like that old adage, if it’s not broke, don’t fix it.’’


PHOTO: (L-R) Garren Elliott, coach Bruce McClelland, Dante Bowlding


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