An improved defense, led by a pair of senior linemen, has boosted SouthLake Christian to its best regular season in its history and the school's first No. 1 playoff seeding.
Defensive end Taylor Jurney and nose tackle Scott Richardson have combined for 27 sacks on the year to help the Eagle defense keep opponents to only 17 points per game.
Off the field, the linemen are mild-mannered and even quiet at times, said SouthLake football coach Rich Landis, but that changes when the whistle blows on Friday nights.
"They're pretty intense," said Landis. "They're both very physical. ... They love playing D. They love hitting."
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It's exciting to watch Jurney and Richardson play, he said.
"You see how fun the game of football can be by what they do," said Landis.
Although the two linemen have racked up sacks - Jurney leading the area with 15 and Richardson adding 12 more - they have done it in different ways.
The 6-0, 200-pound Jurney uses his quickness to run down the quarterback.
"His game speed coming on the end is one of the quickest I've ever seen," said Landis. "He just has a real knack of finding the ball, even if it's on the other side of the field."
Jurney was second on the team in tackles with 54 through the regular season, 10 fewer than Richardson's team-leading 64.
The 6-0, 240-pound Richardson, on the other hand, powers his way through the middle to get his sacks.
"He's just a force," said Landis. "He's a handful."
Jurney's and Richardson's success has forced offenses to game-plan against them. Landis said opposing teams try to roll out their quarterback to the opposite side of where Jurney is lined up and double-team Richardson at the line of scrimmage to counteract his strength.
That has opened up the game for the entire defense.
"It's the big difference in our team this year," said Landis. "We've had OK defenses in the past, but this is a very good defense."
Having the athletic Demitri Allison and Andre Diouf as defensive backs solidifies the Eagles' defense and keeps opponents from dumping the ball off to keep the ball out of the reach of the SouthLake defensive line.
The defense shut out the last two teams in its regular-season schedule, holding both opponents - Village Christian and Forsyth Country Day - to less than 100 yards of total offense.
SouthLake faced Forsyth Country Day for a second week in a row in the first round of the N.C. Independent Schools Athletic Association Division II playoffs. The Eagles won 35-21.
With 13 seniors - who saw SouthLake go a combined 6-14 their first two years of high school - the team understands its position.
"We've been through the lows, and now that we're at the high, we're just trying to keep it going," said Jurney. "We let the younger guys know that chances like this don't come very often. This could be their last chance to get a state championship, so we have to take advantage of it."
The coach has seen that senior leadership.
"To them, being No. 1 (in their bracket) is good, but they have a mature attitude, and they know that it means nothing if they don't fulfill that and go all the way," said Landis.
Jurney and Richardson, along with 6-4, 285-pound offensive lineman Troy Lowden, were selected to represent North Carolina in this year's Oasis Shriners All-Star Classic, which pairs up some of the top private-school players in the Carolinas.
Although the defensive linemen are proud of being named to the Nov. 25 game, which will be played at Charlotte Country Day, their focus is on helping SouthLake achieve its ultimate goal.
"We're here to be state champion," said Richardson. "We're here for the ring."