ALL-AREA FOOTBALL TEAM: John Hardin has 13 first-teamers (12/25)

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By Josh Claywell

With so much offensive firepower gone from 2011, longtime John Hardin coach Mark Brown thought defense would be the Bulldogs’ biggest strength early on this year.

But John Hardin allowed 54 points in its first two games in wins over Lexington Henry Clay and West Jessamine.

“We thought defense would carry us, but early on they struggled more than our offense did,” Brown said. “Our offense came out and scored points. But the defense started gelling and we just started to get better and better as the year went along.”

That’s an understatement.

The Bulldogs, who went 13-1 and lost a heartbreaker to Bowling Green in the Class 5-A semifinals, never gave up more than 14 points in a game the rest of the season.

“Our defense was awful good this season,” Brown said. “We knew they were going to be good coming into the season. It took us a while to get there, but we had more experience on that side. We had an awful good linebacking corps and a big dominant tackle up front and several kids came on as the season went along.”

Two of those were senior linebackers Domonick Brown and Garrett Ray. Mark Brown said the dynamic duo was the heart and soul of the defense.

“You’ve got to start with Domonick,” Mark Brown said. “Him and Garrett Ray had the best year of any of them. Domonick has the size and speed and he’s got the total package. He had that hurt toe early in the year so it took him a few games to get into the full swing of things. Garrett, other coaches always ask about him. He was probably, from start to finish, the most solid defensive player we had. I can’t remember him ever having a bad game.”

Add in the trio of seniors Jalen Fleming and Wade Holtsclaw and junior Chris Smith, and the Bulldogs had one of the better linebacking corps to come through the area.

“You had Domonick and Chris inside and then you had Garrett or Wade or Jalen at outside,” Mark Brown said. “They had a great deal of experience and a nose for the ball. When you’ve got linebackers like that, the rest of your defense can feed off that.”

The Bulldogs certainly did.

They held opponents to 197.4 yards per game this season. John Hardin also shut down one of the state’s most prolific offenses in Bowling Green, the eventual state champion, which averaged 363.1 yards a game entering the semifinals.

The Bulldogs limited the Purples to 98 rushing yards and 178 passing yards.

“Overall, this is one of the better defenses we’ve had,” Mark Brown said. “We’ve had defense that had one part, a better overall secondary or a better front four. But we’ve never had a linebacker group like this. We’ve had some good ones, but this one was pretty dang good.”

Area coaches and the four-man sports staff of The News-Enterprise certainly noticed.

For the first time in the history of the All-Area football team, the Bulldogs had eight first-team defense selections.

“Good gosh, that is a lot,” Mark Brown deadpanned.

Domonick Brown, Fleming, Ray and Smith were named to the first team along with junior tackle Matt Elam and junior end Marcus Goree, senior cornerback Dewayne Evans and junior safety Dimitri Cooper.

This is the second time the Bulldogs have had at least six first-team selections on one side of the ball. They had six on both sides in 2008.

“I’m not surprised we had kids on there, but I am surprised by how many we had make the team,” Mark Brown said.

Other first-team defense honorees are North Hardin senior lineman Johnny Hopkins, Elizabethtown senior lineman Dalton Swank, North Hardin senior cornerback Dontre Woodruff, LaRue County senior cornerback Caleb Canter and Central Hardin senior punter Will Jarchow.

The Bulldogs also had five first-team offense selections in junior quarterback Patrick Anderson, Holtsclaw (running back), senior wideout Dorian Collins, senior tight end Marquis Kennedy and senior guard Chris Doss.

Rounding out the first team were LaRue County senior running back Matthew Hornback, Elizabethtown senior running back Josh Williams, North Hardin senior wideout Kirk Oxendine, Swank, Hopkins, Meade County senior lineman Alex Hogan, Central Hardin senior lineman Corey Dobbs and Meade County senior kicker Zach Bogard.

Josh Claywell can be reached at (270) 505-1752 or jclaywell@thenewsenterprise.com.