GIBSON CITY — Chad Augspurger and his wife, Molly, welcomed a baby boy into the world about a month ago. Sam Augspurger’s arrival in the middle of football season threw some “chaos into the mix,” his father said, smiling.
Consider it the only thing that has not gone according to plan for Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley High School’s defensive coordinator. Everything else has been “pretty smooth sailing” he said on a veteran defense allowing 4.1 points per game heading into Saturday’s 2 p.m. Class 2A playoff semifinal against Eastland-Pearl City at Lanark.
The Falcons gave up 8.1 per contest last year while going 14-0 and winning the 2A championship. Improving on that was a lot to ask, but the Falcons have had the answer each week during a 12-0 season.
“It’s not terribly surprising to me just because of all the experience we had coming back,” Augspurger said. “Some of these guys are three-year starters and they’ve been in the same system for three years. They understand how the defense works and the keys and the reads.”
The Falcons had six shutouts during a regular season in which the starting unit rarely played after halftime because of lopsided scores.
“They’ve really stepped up to the challenge the last two weeks against two completely opposite types of offenses,” Augspurger said. “They haven’t blinked.”
The tackle leader is 6-foot-3, 270-pound senior lineman Hayden Workman with 82. Senior linebacker Austin Spiller has 60 to go with a team-high five interceptions. Senior defensive end Josh Bleich has 58 tackles despite being hampered of late by an injury.
Senior Bryce Barnes has amassed 57 tackles while seeing action at both outside linebacker and defensive end, with 5-10, 230-pound senior Joe Allen manning the nose guard spot.
“Those guys have been outstanding,” Augspurger said of the linemen. “The push they get … they can penetrate and disrupt. They’re using technique a lot better this year. Last year they were just kind of shooting gaps. This year they’re using their hands and ripping through.”
Spiller and junior Keegan Kutemeier (three interceptions) have patrolled the inside linebacker spots, with Jared Trantina, an all-state running back, one of the outside linebackers. When Barnes moves to the line, junior Payton Kean and freshman Aidan Laughery have split time at the other outside linebacker.
The secondary has seniors Nathan Garard and Lane Short (three interceptions) at safeties after both started at cornerback last season. This year's starting corners are seniors Layne Harden and Lance Livingston.
“We’ve all played together since third grade, fourth grade and even before that … hanging out at school or playing in someone’s backyard,” Spiller said. “We have a pretty good connection between all of us. We know how to read each other when we’re playing.”
Short said that familiarity has helped the Falcons not feel the weight of a 26-game win streak. The coaching staff has helped in that regard as well, he said.
“I haven’t felt the nervousness that I thought I might,” Short said. “The coaches put us in great positions, and you practice it all week and you’re feeling great by game time.”
Next up is Eastland-Pearl City, a 12-0 team coming off a 30-3 win over Orion. EPC has averaged 30.3 points per game blending a strong run game with a spread passing attack under first-year head coach Jared McNutt.
GCMS defeated EPC, 50-14, last year in the first round at Gibson City.
“It’s the playoffs now and as long as we’re not giving up as many (points) as the opponent, that’s all that really matters,” Augspurger said of his defense. “But they want a shutout every game. They want to dominate.”
That mindset was established last year and, Spiller said, has carried over.
“A lot of us have the same goal in mind and that’s to be the best,” he said. “Every day we just try to do that.”