Traverse City Record-Eagle

July 31, 2009

Defense propels TC Wolves

TC hosts Tri-City tonight at Central

By MIKE ECKERT

TRAVERSE CITY -- It's too early to know if the old saying "defense wins championships" will be the fate of this year's Traverse City Wolves.

What is known, though, is that defense has been a big reason the Wolves have yet to experience defeat.

After lopsided wins of 33-7 at Ypsilanti and 30-6 at home last week against Chicago, the first-year North American Football League team is 2-0 and riding high on a stingy defensive bunch.

"When we first started practicing last October inside, the field was really small and it was hard to see what we were really like," defensive coordinator Rick Micham said. "I wouldn't say we surprised ourselves with how well we've come out, but there was a lot of unknowns at the beginning of the practice season."

After two games, the first-team defense hasn't allowed a point. Even after Chicago took an interception 103 yards for a touchdown, the TC defense came in to shut down the two-point conversion.

"That's amazing," defensive captain Tyler Alpers said. "It's a great feeling. All of the guys are working hard and flying to the ball. This game was great, because we got our backs against the wall a couple of times and we were able to get turnovers or turnovers on downs. It was great. We were tested and the defense really stepped up."

Tim Ohlert set the tone early against Chicago with a 25-yard interception return for a touchdown. It gave the Wolves a 14-0 lead.

"It felt good, because our offense wasn't doing too good at the time and we needed to put up some points on D," Ohlert said. "We blocked a punt on the first one and got our offense a touchdown, and then picked off the second one and got us off to a good start."

Ohlert finished the game with two pass break-ups, the pick, three tackles and a sack. Ryan Brown and Joe Badgley each had six tackles while the team combined for five sacks against the Wolverines.

"We're working well as a team," Alpers said. "It's amazing because we have a lot of different characters, but when we're out there, we are all just flying to the ball and being aggressive. If guys start being lax a little bit, other guys step up in the huddle, get them focused and ready to go."

Having players with extensive experience has been a plus.

"I think a lot of it is we've got a lot of diversity in the players' backgrounds," Micham said. "Some of them played college ball, a lot of them were really good high school players. Everyone learned their own techniques, and we're letting them play their game and open up to what they're used to."

"We've all come together real well, but the fact that we let them play their own game, that they're a great group of guys who refuse to lose makes a good team combination."

Because of the experience on the defensive side, Micham has been able to keep it simple. Traverse City runs a basic 4-3 defense with lots of "fronts and stunts."

"The knowledge of my players and their abilities have made my job easy," Micham said. "We've been able to stay basic and not get too creative on defense, so we are fortunate."

The Wolves will look for another strong defensive performance tonight when they host Tri-City, a team out of Ontario. Kickoff is at 7 p.m. at Traverse City Central High School.

"This game, guys are thinking it might be a little easier," Alpers said. "But we've all seen teams get beat by weaker teams just because they're not focused. Right now, we're just trying to stay focused and work hard.

"Some of the older guys have been in this kind of situation where we've been the better team and got beat. So we're trying to keep the younger guys focused. I think overall everybody knows we can't let a weaker team slip past us."

The Thunder -- a Central Lakes Division rival -- have struggled to an 0-2 start and have only scored a total of 14 points this year. Ypsilanti beat Tri-City 53-0 the week before losing to Traverse City.

"Ypsi beat them up pretty good, but they showed up with a smaller squad," Micham said. "We don't understand the reason for that. Maybe there were issues where they didn't get all of their players there. They didn't look as good as Ypsi, but we can't assume that, because there might have been star players that didn't show up to that game."