Smith's team needs only to win Friday to clinch the district title and assure itself of home-field advantage in the Class AAA playoffs all the way to the state title game.
"We are still focusing on ourselves and working on individual players and trying to bring them along to the level that we need to make another (title run)," Smith said. "We have identified certain things players have to get better at both on offense and defense. We have to keep moving forward as a team. We have some business we still have to take care of before we are ready for a title run."
Defensive improvement vital
One thing Smith knew his team had to improve for the Rebels to have any chance to win a sixth straight state championship was its defense. Boyle gave up 93 points in its first three games but has allowed just 54 points since then, and 21 of those came in the loss at Highlands.
Boyle opponents are averaging 181.4 yards per game rushing, but only 71.5 passing. The Rebels are running for 191.9 yards per game and passing for another 235.8.
"Defensively, I think we have been pretty fundamentally sound. We just did not do a good job of finishing the plays early in the season," Smith said. "We played the block, but we didn't come off the block and make a play. Now we are coming off the block and making plays.
"The second thing is that we are swarming to the ball. We're doing a good job swarming to the ball. We're doing a better job at the point of attack, but our backside people are not always taking the right angles. Last week the competition didn't test us enough. This week we'll get a better evaluation of where we are."
Linebacker Evan Teague leads Boyle with 51 tackles, while cornerback Phlip Dean has 48 tackles and 15 pass breakups.
Linemen Jacob Arnold and Brandon Record each have 45 tackles.
"Jacob has turned his game up and is playing really, really well," Smith said. "Brandon has always played well. Jed Roth has also stepped up his game at end the last few weeks. Andrew Bertram has been good all year. We have moved him from end to linebacker because he's one of our better defensive players, and we have to get him in position to make plays. He's mastering end, but still playing well at linebacker when we use him there, too."
Brummett has helped
Safety Casey Brummett has also bolstered the defense since working his way into the starting lineup when district play began.
"He doesn't weight 135 pounds, but he's one of the best tacklers on the team. He's very tough," Smith said. "He will stick his head and shoulder pads in there. He's kept other teams from getting long runs that we were giving up early in the year."
Boyle's offense has been good in every game except Highlands, when it was plagued with turnovers. Quarterback Brandon Smith has thrown for 1,883 yards and 22 scores and run for 488 yards and nine touchdowns. Quinn Givhan has rushed for 763 yards and 11 touchdowns.
"Last week the varsity offense only ran 23 plays," Smith said. "At this time of year, that's not good. It will hurt us. We have to stay sharp, especially in practice, when you get so few snaps in a game.
"We've been fighting the same situation the last few years. You've got to keep the continuity of your varsity team. Your main priority at this time of year has to be keeping your starters sharp no matter what."|