Pine Creek's 'black shirts' ready to take on biggest challenge yet after nearly shutting out Grandview

Nov. 23—Black jerseys with no numbers are the tuxedo every Pine Creek defender strives to wear.

Defensive coordinator Matt Wibbels is a born-and-raised Nebraskan, privy to the college's long-held Cornhusker tradition of putting black jerseys on its defensive starters.

He started it at his first stop as a coach at Rampart and has continued it ever since.

Playing on the defensive side at Pine Creek isn't a demotion, as it might be considered at several programs that build the defense from the leftovers after constructing an offense. In many ways, it's the ultimate goal of players like junior Justus Nicholson, who came to the staff before the year and asked for a chance to contribute on defense, even with his athleticism screaming star slot receiver.

Now, Nicholson, a cornerback, is tied for the team lead in interceptions (7) with fellow junior Ramon Pacheco.

The Eagles want to hit hard, earn a black jersey, and go the opposite way of college and high school football's offense-first mentality.

"Our defense is just really scrappy," senior middle linebacker and captain Brett Alvey said. "We don't always rely on intricate schemes or anything like that, we just go out and get after it."

Part of the scheme being simple is strategy.

Pine Creek preaches a gap scheme. Find it, fill it, and gang tackle when the time comes. The fewer steps, the more players are able to run and play freely.

"We have a simple philosophy of not getting head-up on dudes — not trying to win one-on-one battles," Wibbels said. "We attack gaps and we attack with fast kids. We've been blessed to have some of our best players and athletes on defense."

That's where coach Todd Miller comes in.

Pine Creek's coaching staff isn't looking to move all of its standout athletes to offense. Nicholson fits the mold of one who could shine in a slot receiver role. Fellow defensive back senior Logan Matthews could do the same on the outside with his 6-foot-5 frame, and sometimes does.

But the focus is having an athletic defense, and allowing the pieces to reach both sides of the ball, with the defense coming first. In their opening playoff win against Legacy, senior Jerry Lydiatt made a touchdown catch on offense and recovered a fumble, too.

In a 24-3 win over Grandview last week, junior Mason Miller helped in the box as a linebacker, then scored three touchdowns on offense.

"The most important thing is defense," Todd Miller said. "Your identity is developed on that side of the ball, and we're going to do everything we can to put our best 11 guys on defense, which may be abnormal.

"We want to control that side."

The defense has led the Eagles in their jump from 4A to 5A this season, where they have won their first two playoff games. They now face their biggest test in the state's 5A No. 1 seed Cherry Creek.

Stepping off of the bus, the Eagles won't have many players the size of Bruins like seniors Blake Purchase and Joshua Bates — both committed to going Power 5 after this season.

That's where pride and physicality come in.

"We have tremendous pride and you can see it in our black shirt program," Alvey said. "All of it connects to being proud of our roots. It's about being physical and not backing down at Pine Creek."