WHITEHOUSE — Once upon a time, Whitehouse was known exclusively for its offensive prowess. But this season, the Wildcats have been trying to balance perception and make a name on the other side of the ball.
Last week helped.
In a commanding victory against Marshall, Whitehouse held an athletic offense to 153 total yards and three points to remain unbeaten on the season. The dominant performance came at a perfect time, perhaps, because the Class 4A third-ranked Wildcats (4-0) can use the momentum to propel themselves into this week's showdown with 3A No. 1 Carthage (4-0).
"I feel like our boys continue to get better each and every week," Whitehouse head coach Adam Cook said. "We are going to be aggressive and play fast. Marshall definitely had a lot of speed. To hold them to just three points shows we've gotten better."
A key reason for the weekly improvement has been first-year defensive coordinator Brian Dunn, who inherited an athletic stop unit after serving in the same capacity at 16-4A rival Corsicana. And outside the season-ending injury to star safety Justin Dunning in the second game, Whitehouse has matched the athleticism on a weekly basis with a newfound purpose.
It just takes time to put everything together.
In the first three games, the Wildcats allowed 22 points or more against three potent rushing offenses — Hallsville, Chapel Hill and Sulphur Springs. But then came Marshall, which finished with 37 carries for 83 yards (2.2 yards a carry) and 12 of 19 for 70 yards passing in a 59-3 outcome.
In the meantime, Whitehouse's offense continued to pile on the yards (523) and points as senior quarterback Patrick Mahomes added five more touchdown passes to his increasingly staggering collection.
Dunn, who in past years had to game-plan for Mahomes and Co., has been pleased with the defense's progress.
"When I got here and I saw the athletes they had, I just wanted to, not necessarily change things, but to put my personality and my beliefs into the defense," Dunn said. "Being aggressive and being physical. Getting after people and making them adjust to what we are doing."
As the story goes with many defenses, everything begins at linebacker for the Wildcats. That's where standout Reggie Long mans a quarterback-like position; having registered a team-high 37 tackles with five tackles for losses, two interceptions, a sack and a forced fumble. Others with more than 20 tackles are Joseph Klein (29 tackles, three tackles for losses, two sacks), Savian Lacy (26 tackles, two tackles for losses) and Chris Reece (22 tackles, two tackles for losses, two sacks).
Defensive backs Jamal Kennedy, Nate Brooks and Isaiah Burton have 20 tackles each, while defensive lineman Kaleab Shackleford has 17 tackles, two tackles for losses and a sack.
"We have improved each week," said Dunn, whose unit stopped Marshall on downs three times inside the red zone. "It took a little while for the kids to buy into what I was bringing in but each week we've improved and last week we really saw some kids step up, and that's what I wanted to see from the get go. The light came on and we are going to be better from here."
Said Cook: "I think that one of the things, from Day 1, coach Dunn has brought has been really stressing to the kids to fly to the football. We have 11 guys running to the football. It's just an attitude, I guess. … And I think our boys are getting to be more physical. … I just think the confidence is building up."
That, no doubt, will be put to the test against Carthage, which boasts tradition and experience that few Texas teams can match. The Bulldogs, who held on for a 44-40 win against 16-4A's Nacogdoches last week, are led by quarterback Blake Bogenschutz, running back Tevin Pipkin (who's been battling an ankle injury) and receiver Tee Gordon, among others.
Bogenschutz matched Mahomes with five TDs last week.
Prior to the regular season, Whitehouse scrimmaged another 3A powerhouse —- second-ranked Gilmer, a 3A Division II state finalist last year. The Wildcats played without many of their top contributors, including Mahomes, and were limited on offense in a 3-0 loss (three TDs to none).
"This is a big game for us," Cook said. "We kind of feel like this is going to be a good little benchmark for us to see where we've been. We feel like each week our team has gotten better and progressed."
Notes: Senior receiver Coleman Patterson, who has 21 receptions for 382 yards and five touchdowns, is questionable for Friday's game with an illness. … This will be the Wildcats' final non-district game and second consecutive home game. Following next week's bye, they open District 16-4A action Oct. 11 at Lindale. Then they take on Jacksonville (home), Nacogdoches (away), Corsicana (away) and John Tyler (home).