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Wildcats change things up on defense

New Hanover's Kashon McCall jumps on Wallace-Rose Hill's Quayle Robinson at Legion Stadium. (Photo by Jeff Janowski)

By Powell Latimer

New Hanover’s offense has grabbed attention with its gaudy production this football season. But if the Wildcats want to advance to the third round of the NCHSAA Class 4A playoffs, expect their defense to take a turn in the spotlight.

While the offense has scored 41.2 points per game, the defense has also been productive, holding opponents to just 18 points per game. New Hanover hasn’t allowed more than 14 points from any opponent since September. Those numbers will be tested Friday as Clayton comes to Legion Stadium. The Comets have scored at least 30 points in seven straight games.

“We attack,” New Hanover coach Kevin Motsinger said. “We pin our ears back. We’re an attacking defense.”

Motsinger would know – he’s taken over the defense this year after former coordinator Chad Ashley became head coach at White Oak. He said that despite some rust in taking up the role after years of being the head coach, he’s enjoyed his new role.

“Defense is about attacking and being very physical and aggressive,” Motsinger said. “That guy’s got to have some fire, spit and vinegar. It’s a different role. It’s been fun. That’s what I enjoy doing. I just love coaching football. I like the chess match.”

To checkmate opponents, Motsinger said he likes to keep all the pieces moving. Instead of focusing on one specific front, New Hanover’s defensive alignment looks different from play to play. The Wildcats have showed anything from a two-man front to a six-man front this year, and Motsinger has emphasized versatility.

“We can put them anywhere we want them,” Motsinger said. “Our kids understand it.”

The different looks have helped produce consistent pressure on opposing offenses. Last week, the Wildcats sacked Southeast Raleigh’s dual-threat quarterbacks three times and held the Bulldogs to 145 total yards of offense.

But Clayton provides a different challenge. Where Southeast Raleigh liked to throw it deep, Clayton pounds with the running game. The Comets have two, 1,000-yard rushers and a third with 810.

That provides a potential problem for New Hanover. Against Laney, Jeavonne Batts racked up 101 yards. Against Ashley’s triple option, New Hanover gave up 148 yards to Quincy Rhodes.

New Hanover did win both of those games handily, though, and Motsinger said the Wildcat defense has continued to improve. But he added that Clayton will test New Hanover’s run defense in a way that previous opponents haven’t.

“With those three backs they’re so balanced to either side,” Motsinger said. “They’re going to make us stay balanced as well. They are very good at what they do.”

But whatever challenges Clayton throws at New Hanover, Motsinger said he was confident his team could adjust.

“We’re running everything I have in my defensive playbook,” Motsinger said. “We line up all over the place and we do different things. So they’ve gotten better in understanding everything we’re doing.”

Powell Latimer: 343-2261

On Twitter: @StarNewsVarsity

Playoffs Week 2

For Wilmington schools, a rematch is on tap for Hoggard, while New Hanover could end the 27-year coaching career of Clayton's Gary Fowler tonight at Legion Stadium. Games start at 7:30 p.m. Follow along online with our live chat and Twitter updates at

> Hoggard at New Bern

> Clayton at New Hanover