by Cliff Mehrtens

HUNTERSVILLE – One number has been remarkably constant on the scoreboard at most SouthLake Christian football games this season – zero.

It’s how much the Eagles’ opponents have scored in six of 10 games.

Nothing. Nada. Nil. Zip. Zilch. Goose egg. Whatever it’s called, SouthLake (9-1) has made a habit of shutting down and shutting out other teams.

“We have a good game plan,” senior linebacker Brian Jones said. “Coaches tell us where to go, and every time a guy is there. We play together and nobody plays for themselves.”

SouthLake will begin the N.C. Independent Schools Athletic Association Divison III playoffs against visiting Fayetteville Christian at 7 p.m. Nov. 2.

The Eagles have shut out the past three opponents – 55-0 against Lake Norman Storm, 33-0 against Concord First Assembly and 42-0 against Community School of Davidson.

SouthLake began the season with shutouts in three of the first four games. In 10 games they’ve allowed 51 points, while scoring 419.

The lone blemish was a 24-14 loss to Arden Christ School on Oct. 5, which accounted for nearly half the points the Eagles have allowed.

Jones leads SouthLake with 118 tackles and has eight games with double-digit tackles. He also has five sacks.

Defensive tackle Kenny Bumgarner has 94 tackles and leads the team with 13 sacks. Linebacker Dylan Silinski has 63 tackles and four sacks. Blake Queen (six sacks), Joey Gass (47 tackles), Christian Colon (53 tackles) and Zack Dudan (51 tackles) have been key contributors.

The secondary is loaded with talent. Demitri Allison has five interceptions, including two he’s returned for touchdowns. Andre Diouf, SouthLake’s career interception leader (28), has three this season. Caleb Hines also has three.

Allison, a senior who doubles as a wide receiver, scored on a 45-yard interception return in last week’s victory.

“Just about all of our upperclassmen play both ways,” SouthLake coach Geoff O’Donnell said. “We are yielding five points per game this year. That’s insane. So Demitri and the boys are really playing lights-out defense.”

Jones said a shutout is the defense’s goal every game, along with a certain number of turnovers or yards allowed.

“The key is staying focused and not getting nervous,” he said. “I think last year (in playoffs) we were a little nervous. We just have to work hard during the week to be prepared for all the possibilities.”

Bumgarner is challenging the school record of 18 sacks set by Taylor Jurney last season. He said one key to SouthLake’s success stretches beyond the field.

“We just get along really well,” Bumgarner said. “We’ve been really good friends. When you make a tackle, everybody is over there having a good time.”

It’s been a season full of good times for SouthLake, but the stakes get higher in the playoffs.

The first test will be Fayetteville Christian’s running game, which is averaging 260 yards per game. Bernard Smalls, a 205-pound running back, has gained more than 1,500 yards for the second consecutive season. This season, Smalls is averaging 169 yards per game and has scored 20 touchdowns.

The secondary will be tested by Fayetteville Christian’s Bryan Moore, a 6-foot-5 wideout who has more than 1,000 receiving yards.

“They have two big-time threats on offense,” O’Donnell said. “They give up some points, but tend to score more than their opponent, which could be troublesome.”

SouthLake’s defense makes it hard for opponents to find a weak spot to attack. And each portion of the defense makes the others better. A strong push by the linemen creates space for the linebackers to roam and make tackles. Tight coverage by the defensive backs gives the linemen more time to pressure a quarterback.

SouthLake’s string of zeroes doesn’t guarantee playoff success, but last year’s loss in the state semifinals remains in many of the Eagles’ memories.

“We’ve been there before,” Bumgarner said. “We just need to stay focused on what we have to do.”