By Ed Farrell
Herald Assistant Sports Editor
Bill Brest ... buffer?
Hickory High’s head football coach has broad shoulders and that’s necessary, because he’s taking on all distractions as his Hornets prepare for Saturday’s District 10 Class AA championship game.
Hickory (10-1) will attempt to hoist the D-10 trophy for a 3rd consecutive season when the Hornets journey to Girard’s backyard — Edinboro University’s Sox Harrison Stadium — to meet the Yellow Jackets at 1 p.m.
“ ... We just focus on what we’ve gotta do and what Girard will be doing, and how we can be successful on Saturday,” began Brest (41-8), who has Hickory in its 4th consecutive district title tilt.
His Hornets’ last loss in the D-10 tournament occurred in the 2010 championship game. Hickory’s lone loss this season was in week 2 against Greenville. But Brest is concerned with none of that.
“We’re just thrilled to be in the District 10 championship game and having the opportunity to play for a championship,” he said. “This is the fourth time in-a-row and we’re going for a three-peat. I know our guys get sick and tired of hearing it, but ... we just want to be one-and-oh on Saturday by about 3 o’clock.”
That Brest “mantra” has worked well for the Hornets, who have outscored and outgained opponents by respective 49.5 to 9.3 and 416 to 156.6 margins.
Brest stopped shy of saying the loss to Greenville was Hickory’s tipping point, but acknowledged, “The bottom line is, in that week-2 game ...Greenville was the better team that Friday night. But the biggest lesson we learned was how to finish,” he emphasized. “In the few games right after that, we had such strong second halves. But as the season progressed our first halves were so much stronger, too.
“But finishing became our mantra in week three.”
That is appropos for Girard (10-2), as the Yellow Jackets stung both Sharon and Greenville with late rallies to win quarter- and semifinal-round games. After starting the season 1-2, Girard has journeyed to 9 consecutive wins for 4th-year head coach Jim Funk.
“I told the kids, ‘Listen they’re here for a reason — they’re a very good football team — so we have to prepare the right way,’” Brest related. “Actually, they’re a combination of what we were the last several years — multiple-I and spread.”
Brest is impressed with Del Barnes, who has broken the 1,000-yards rushing barrier in back-to-back seasons.
“He’s a scatback — quick, fast, good foortwork, but he’s put together, he’s thick,” Brest praised. “He does run the ball well, but they’re more of an inside-outside, zone-concept team. The Barnes kid does a nice job running the football; he has great vision.
“But,” Brest interjected regarding the ’Jackets, “everything comes down to the quarterback (Joe Dunn). He’s coming in on about five-thousand yards throwing. He does a nice job throwing, so we’ve gotta be smart, secondary-wise ... and also put pressure on him. But you know what he really does well with the ball?" Brest rhetorically asked. “In breaking down film of him, I put all his runs together and the kid can run the football — ‘iso’ ... inside-zone reads ... and he can break tackles and break away. We know he can throw, but we’ve gotta be able to stop the run.
“If we can stop the run and make them one-dimensional,” Brest reasoned, “maybe we can start teeing-off with our pass rush. But (Dunn’s) a very good football player.”
Greenville, disjointed by Girard, committed 4 first-half turnovers. Brest’s PowerPoint presentation for success addressed that:
“Number one, take great care of the football; number two, win the battle of field position; number three, win special teams, and number four, we cannot make mistakes,” he related. “Seeing Girard on film ... those are the four things we’ve gotta do to be successful on Saturday.
“One of our mantras is: Take great care of the football and make great decisions. We emphasize that on the practice field and hope that it carries over to game day.”
Brest characterized his Hornets healthy and focused.
“It’s phenomenal the way they’ve been preparing in the film room, preparing on the grease board, preparing on the field, preparing at home. ... They’re preparing the right way, and our kids are excited about this opportunity,” Brest summarized.
With winning, comes confidence. But also pressure with being the 2-time reigning champion. This is where Brest becomes the buffer.
“I’ve told the kids to just enjoy the moment, enjoy it this week, and let me handle the distractions,” he related. “I want the kids to study, do well in class, focus on their character, and prepare the right way and let the coaches coach. ... Our coaches, it’s unbelievable, their preparation and how they pay attention to detail. We do our best to put the kids in the right positions to be successful.
“I don’t want them distracted at all, but just have a great week.”
Like Barry Sanders scoring then simply handing the ball to an official, Brest wants his Hornets to “act like they’ve been here before. ... you know what we’ve gotta do — finish the right way
“Pressure’s what’s inside the locker room, what’s inside the team room. But there’s no pressure; just preparation,” Brest continued. “We don’t listen to what’s being said outside; we just prepare the right way and have fun.
“These guys are focused and zeroed in right now.”
Note: The game will be simulcast on NewsTalk 790 (WPIC AM) and SportsRadio 96.7 (WLLF FM), with Mark Slezak and Bob Greenburg calling the action. Air-time, 12:30 p.m.