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Hart defense just as important to success

Posted: December 3, 2013 10:50 p.m.
Updated: December 3, 2013 10:50 p.m.

From left, Hart linebacker Garrett Updegraft, cornerback Wes Fitzpatrick and linebacker Cody Shoemaker. After a rough start to the season, the Indians defense has made adjustments and is now playing lights out because of them.

While the Hart Indians have gathered headlines for their gaudy, and at times, record-breaking offensive performances, there’s another big element to this team bound for a CIF-Southern Section Northern Division championship game this Friday against Valencia.

“Hopefully we don’t read the papers too much as far as who’s getting the most press or whatever,” said Hart head coach Mike Herrington. “The defense gets their praise when it’s deserved by the coaches and their criticism by the coaches when it’s called for just the same as the offense.”

This week’s championship game is far removed from the start of the season, when Hart players were reading a lot of negative talk about the defense on message boards and social media.

Hart gave up 49 points to Santiago of Corona and 54 to Chaminade of West Hills. Both were victories, but the critics came out.

“It kind of raised question marks on if our defense can finish, at least from what I’ve heard,” said Hart senior linebacker Garrett Updegraft. “And I think we’ve put that to rest.”

All it took was a little bit of fire to kickstart this Hart High defense.

Since those two games, Hart has allowed a little more than 17 points per game. That includes three strong playoff performances in which Hart has forced five turnovers and limited some of the best teams in the division.

“We just settled in,” said Hart head coach Mike Herrington of the defense. “We were probably doing a little bit too many schemes and we narrowed it down to what we were doing best and they just started working more on fundamentals and getting those schemes down.”

At the center of the defense is Updegraft, the middle linebacker and quarterback of the unit.

In last week’s CIF semifinal win over West Torrance, he reached 138 tackles on the season, which ties a school record set by Patrick Larimore in 2006.

Playing next to Updegraft is fellow senior inside linebacker Cody Shoemaker, who made the move into the position after playing defensive end last year.

Shoemaker has two interceptions this season and 79 tackles, none bigger than a game-clinching stop against Chaminade’s Donovan Lee in the overtime win over Chaminade on Sept. 6.

Hart won its first eight games of the season and stumbled in its final two Foothill League games, losing to Valencia and Canyon back-to-back.

This late-season slump presented the Indians with yet another source of motivation.

“In the playoffs, we definitely hit a new stride,” Shoemaker said. “That definitely kind of woke us up in that sense.”

With Updegraft and Shoemaker, Andrew MacArthur and Blake Fall holding down the linebacking corps, there’s two-way player Blake Porter taking care of business at nose tackle with defensive tackles David Russon and David Rowden on either side.

Hart’s secondary is made up of a group of fast, athletic players who mostly double as offensive skill position players.

Connor Wingenroth and Chase White rotate in as safeties while Wes Fitzpatrick and Ryan Wood are the starting cornerbacks.

That group has helped the team compile 16 interceptions this season.

“We’ve really turned it on, especially on defense,” Fitzpatrick said. “We really executed.”

For one more game, this group will have to be at its best.


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