With its up-tempo attack, the Niles West football team averaged just more than 46 points per game through the season’s first five weeks.
Niles West’s offense has been so potent and can score so fast, there have been some undesirable consequences.
“Sometimes our defense is back on the field in less than a minute,” Wolves coach Scott Baum said. “We take our chances with it, but our defense has been productive. That’s just part of the way it is when you play this up-tempo style.”
As Niles West readies for its final three Central Suburban South games of the regular season — including Friday’s game at Maine South — it will likely need a productive defense to finish the year strong.
The Wolves, who earned a 1-0 forfeit victory over Waukegan in Week 6 due to a teachers’ strike, have had their fair share of injuries on defense, though. Senior captain and linebacker Adam Pignato has played just two games because of a foot injury, Baum said, and he is expected to be out a couple more weeks.
Against Evanston on Sept. 26, four of Niles West’s five defensive backs were on the sideline. That forced the Wolves (5-1, 2-0) to field a patchwork secondary that featured three receivers, two of whom were sophomores.
Players such as Chris Mihulet have stepped up. Mihulet was the team’s place kicker, but because of injuries he now plays cornerback.
“The coaches basically have told us injuries are going to happen, it pretty much comes down to the team that’s able to fight through them the best,” linebacker Tahir Meeks said. “I feel like I’ve taken that message to heart, and all of our leaders and guys that have stepped up have also taken that message to heart. We’ve been able to play sound defense based on that message.”
Meeks said the defense’s emphasis has shifted to its pass rush. Junior defensive ends DJ Box and Calvin Cadet have rotated into a defensive line that now has a greater sense of urgency to disrupt the flow of the opposing offense.
“They’ve responded well to it and I feel like it’s something we can continue to do and continue to harp on,” Meeks said. “Our defensive line is a key cog in stopping the run and has gotten a key pass rush this year to allow our defensive backfield to make some plays.”
Baum said his coaching staff has preached a bend-but-don’t-break mentality all year. With the pressure that the high-speed offense and injuries have put on the Wolves’ defense, Baum said his team has been doing enough to win games.
“They’re resilient, they stay out there and they keep pursuing the football,” Baum said.