FLORENCE — The numbers put up this season by Winston-Salem State’s offense are certainly eye-opening.
The Rams (14-0) rank fifth in Division II in scoring at 42.6 points per game. Quarterback Kameron Smith has thrown for 3,043 yards and 42 touchdowns in leading Winston-Salem to a berth in Saturday’s Division II Championship Game against Valdosta State (11-2).
Somewhat overlooked in the Winston-Salem’s success is its defense. The Rams rank among the national leaders in several defensive categories including being No. 8 in scoring defense at 16.1 points per game.
“Our defense was overlooked a lot, especially early in the year,” head coach Connell Maynor said. “I was telling people after every game how well our defense played because everyone wanted to interview our quarterback and wide receivers that were scoring all of the touchdowns.
“I’ve been preaching all year that our defense is pretty darn good and I think people are finally starting to see that our defense is the real deal. It’s not a secret anymore.”
Junior middle linebacker Carlos Fields leads the Rams with 107 total tackles. Fields said the defense doesn’t mind the offense getting most of the attention.
“Our offense gets a lot of publicity because they score 42 points a game and have some great players,” Fields said. “But we our defense is for real. We play fast and we play physical. Every aspect of our defense is great.”
The Rams are especially tough against the run. They allow just 89.1 yards rushing per game, which ranks seventh nationally.
Winston-Salem also ranks seventh in turnover margin. The defense has recovered 10 fumbles and intercepted 25 passes.
Junior cornerback Larry Hearne leads the team with five interceptions. Senior free safety Malcolm Rowe ranks second on the team with 74 tackles and has added two interceptions, two fumble recoveries and blocked two kicks.
“It’s not just about trying to stop people it’s about getting the ball,” Maynor said. “That’s what you want on defense.
“Our defensive backs are aggressive and go for the ball when it’s in the air. When our defensive linemen hit the quarterback they go for the ball.”
Fields said the turnovers are all about effort.
“We get three to four turnovers per game,” he said. “Our coach says that you can’t coach effort and our guys give it 110 percent all the time. We have all 11 going to the ball every play until the whistle is blown.”
The Rams defense will face a big challenge against a Valdosta State offense that averages 481.2 yards per game. The Blazers are extremely balanced, averaging 219.8 yards per game rushing and 261.3 yards passing.
“We want them to pass,” Fields said. “Our defense is just not going to allow someone to run the ball against us. We want them to pass to make their quarterback mobile. We can’t let him just sit back and pick us apart.”
Jeff McIntyre can be reached at 256-740-5737 or jeff.mcintyre@TimesDaily.com.