21 on 21: Bear River looking to fix defense
Wednesday , August 13, 2014 - 2:57 PM
GARLAND – Bear River High entered its first-round playoff game last November as decisive favorites over one-win Hurricane.
Hurricane had something else other that one win, however – something that would ultimately prove to be too much for Bear River to handle.
“Their one strength was their running game, and it just perfectly fit our one weakness, so they got us,” Bear River coach Chris Wise said.
Hurricane rolled up 282 rushing yards and averaged over five yards per carry to overcome a 14-6 second-quarter deficit and shock Bear River 38-26.
Wise lamented the missed opportunity.
“When you’ve got a team down, you’ve got to finish,” Wise said.
For Bear River, defense wasn’t just an issue against Hurricane in 2013. The Bears allowed 30.4 points per game. Six times, and in all four of Bear River’s losses, the Bears allowed at least 34 points.
Whether or not things are different in 2014 will depend in part on new defensive coordinator Jared Lisch, who has spent the last six seasons with Wise at Bear River coaching the linebackers.
“My old defensive coordinator (Trent Rasmussen) wants to take over the freshmen,” Wise said. “Jared played with me at Bear River when we played in high school, he played at Dixie as a linebacker – played with Corey Dillon – He’s a great defensive mind. The kids love him and it just seemed like a really, really natural fit.”
Fortunately for Lisch, his specialty will be where he will have the most returning experience on defense this season. Linebackers McKade Mitton, Kurtis Wronkoski and Carson Gibbs will all return after proving to be key contributors as juniors a season ago.
Mitton recorded a team-high 157 tackles in 2013 while registering six sacks, tied for the team lead, and Wronkoski was second among returning players with 45 tackles.
Gibbs finished just under Wronkoski with 42 tackles, but added a pair of sacks.
The defense will also get a boost from the return of Cole Fronk, who after playing cornerback last year and finishing with four interceptions – second most on the team behind departing free safety Tanner Porter – has been moved to free safety for his senior year.
Offensively, Bear River will need a lot of new starters to step up if it wants to match or surpass the 37.0 points per game it averaged a season ago.
The Bears lost four of their five offensive linemen from 2013, providing a challenge Wise fully understands the seriousness of.
“People that don’t coach offensive line very rarely understand what a task it is and how hard it is to win without those guys, and so that’s going to be our major challenge,” Wise said. “But I think we’ll be good. We’ve got some young kids that are coming up.”
Those young kids will be aided by Gibbs, the lone returning starter.
“Incredible balance,” Wise said of Gibbs’ talent. “When you watch him play, he is never on the ground. Ever. He’s just got incredible balance.”
Gibbs and the young offensive line will be protecting a new quarterback in 2014 – senior Walker Riley. Riley will replace JarDee Nessen, who threw for 2,858 yards and 29 touchdowns to just nine interceptions last season.
In spot duty, Riley completed 16 of 20 passes for 227 yards with two touchdowns and an interception.
“He’s a very, very smart player,” Wise said. “Very strong arm, accurate arm, so I’m excited about what he can do. He’s a great kid and I trust him completely with our offense.”
A lot will be placed on Riley’s shoulders this season with a revamped running game. Jeremie Selman, who carried the ball 148 times for 791 yards and nine touchdowns a season ago, graduated. Selman and Nessen combined to account for 18 of Bear River’s 22 rushing touchdowns last year.
Returning, however, will be Mitton and Kelton Williams. Mitton carried the ball 26 times for 113 yards with one touchdown last season.
“That’s a name you’re going to write a lot about,” Wise said.
Riley’s biggest returning help will come at wide receiver with Fronk and junior Bridger Beus. Fronk caught 27 passes for 467 yards and seven touchdowns last year while Beus tallied 16 catches for 447 yards and six touchdowns. Against Hurricane, Beus had four catches for 140 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
“He’s just very elusive – hard to squarely hit and get hands on,” Wise said of Beus. “Just a great athlete, great player.”
Together, Fronk and Beus will try and make up for the loss of Colton Jensen, who caught 61 passes for 1,256 yards and 10 touchdowns – all team highs – last year.
Bear River opens the season on Aug. 22 at home against Logan at 7 p.m.
Contact reporter Ryan Comer at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @RyanComerSe and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/RyanComerSe
2014 BEAR RIVER SCHEDULE
Friday, Aug. 22 – Logan – 7 p.m.
Friday, Aug. 29 – at Mountain Crest – 7 p.m.
Friday, Sept. 5 – Box Elder – 7 p.m.
Friday, Sept. 12 – Tooele – 7 p.m.
Friday, Sept. 19 – at Juan Diego – 7 p.m.
Friday, Sept. 26 – at Stansbury – 7 p.m.
Friday, Oct. 3 – Payson – 7 p.m.
Thursday, Oct. 9 – Park City – 7 p.m.
Wednesday, Oct. 15 – at Ben Lomond – 7 p.m.
Friday, Oct. 24 – at Uintah – 7 p.m.