HARVARD – Harvard football coach Tim Haak views game video with discerning eyes, always finding aspects on which the Hornets can improve.
The Hornets’ defense has made its coach look a little harder recently for faults. Harvard has allowed 41 points and recorded two shutouts in its past four games, an encouraging sign as the No. 2-seeded Hornets (10-0) prepare to host No. 7 King (8-2) at 7 p.m. Friday in an IHSA Class 4A second-round playoff game at Dan Horne Field.
“I feel like our defense has improved every game,” defensive back Justin Nolen said. “We’ve really improved and worked on it in practice. We know our offense is going to be there, and we had to pick it up on defense.”
The Hornets, who have allowed 111 points for the season, shut out Richmond-Burton (21-0) in the regular-season finale and limited 1,382-yard rusher Davonte Elam to 44 yards in Friday’s 40-22 victory over St. Edward.
“We’ve been consistent all year,” middle linebacker Tate Miller said. “That’s helped us a lot, but we have confidence going into the playoffs and last game we were able to learn from our mistakes and go from there.”
Haak still finds areas for improvement, but likes where the Hornets are on defense.
“I never look at it as, ‘Have we maxed out?’ ” Haak said. “I go home and watch film and start making notes of all the positives that we’ve done and the things we need to improve on. We’ve made strides. We’re better than we were five games ago, we’re better than we were three games ago.”
The Hornets boast a wealth of experience on defense. Nolen, Miller and linemen Dakota Trebes and Adam Freimund are third-year defensive starters. They remember learning from players like Justin’s older brother Collin Nolen and former middle linebacker Tyler Kramer.
“I was able to watch some of the things Tyler Kramer did, I had my own position [strong side linebacker] at the time,” said Miller, who has a team-best 109 tackles. “I was able to gain experience from that and learned a lot. It helps because I understand defenses a lot better and offenses that we face. I’m able to understand what their goal is.”
Nolen, who leads the team with five interceptions, agrees that former Hornets have had a big role in this successful season.
“Guys we’ve played with in the past have helped us learn and get to this point,” he said.
Haak says Nolen and Miller are “quiet leaders,” but when they have something to say, the others listen.
“We had Collin [Nolen] and that group, who were good leaders, and they emulate that now,” Haak said. “That’s very important. We give them ownership, it’s their program. We tell our captains, you’re not only leaders for this year, but all the young kids will see how you lead.”
The Hornets may be facing their fastest opponent of the season Friday with King, but the game plan will not drastically change.
“It’s how we focus and know what our role is within the defense,” Miller said. “We have guys who are able to step into that role and play a crucial part in our success that way.”