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Broncos buoyed by 'D'

Staff Photo: John Bohn Brookwood linebacker Conner Hennessey (47) runs the ball for a touchdown after recovering a Peachtree Ridge fumble in a playoff game last Friday. 

Staff Photo: John Bohn Brookwood linebacker Conner Hennessey (47) runs the ball for a touchdown after recovering a Peachtree Ridge fumble in a playoff game last Friday. 

It's easy to remember Nick Tompkins' epic game-winning kick return against Parkview. Or how about last Friday's half-back pass and subsequent game-winning touchdown pass in overtime? Memorable, right?

But before all of that, hidden, stands Brookwood's defense.

This isn't last year's Bronco offense, racking up eight 40-plus point games. They can score when needed, but the backbone of the defending Class AAAAA champions' season is a stingy and opportunistic defense.

Just take last week.

In the playoff opener on the road against Region 7-AAAAA runner-up Peachtree Ridge, the defense forced a pair of early turnovers. The first led to the game's first touchdown and the second was an interception returned for a score. When Peachtree Ridge regained its offense and the Broncos needed to rally, all those points mattered.

"We've played pretty consistently good defense all year long," Brookwood head coach Mark Crews said. "It's a pretty consistent bunch."

Sure they allow points, but against spread teams and the talent they've faced shutouts are hard feats. But it's a defense allowing barely more than two touchdowns a game and it held undefeated Grayson's powerful offense to just 14 points, the Rams' lowest output since Week 1.

Through the regular season, the Broncos were the fourth best defense in Gwinnett County, trailing only Buford, Grayson and North Gwinnett. Last week in overtime, was just the third time the Broncos allowed 20 or more points this season.

And this is still a young Brookwood defense.

The Broncos returned just four starters from last year's title-winning defense but its those returners who established its strength.

Senior linebackers Conner Hennessey and Eric Mapoles command the unit. Crews calls them the quarterbacks of his defense.

"They are the heart of the deal," he said.

Then there's Ramirez Galbreath, a senior defensive end who Brookwood switched last Friday to the strong side end to try and slow Di'Andre Atwater. He ended the night with three tackles, one for a loss, six assists and a sack. And he was playing from the strong side in overtime when the defense forced a field goal to set up the winning touchdown.

"He's another one that's a pretty good one," Crews said.

The final returner is senior Toby Guinn at corner. He had an interception on Friday.

"It was a fairly new unit as far as experience is concerned at the beginning of the year," Crews said. "We've been in every game we've played.

"I would hope that everybody on our team has gotten better in the course of the year and we are playing about as well as we can play now."

Typically, that plan works for Brookwood. The Broncos spend the early part of the season breaking in new units on both sides of the ball and by the time it's Week 11, the group grows from young to experienced.

"That lends itself to a bit of a slow start," Crews said.

But with the returning players at each level of the defense, the usual steep curve flattened out. The Broncos run a complicated system to counter the new spread attack permeating high school football. They blitz more, drop defensive ends into coverage, make checks at the line, show a different coverage and switch when the ball is snapped.

"You can't be dumb and play hardly anymore," Crews said.

It's all easy to overlook. Especially with the flash of long runs, trick plays and late passing touchdowns.

"The idea is if you can play good defense, you have a chance to win at the end," Crews said. "That's is a pretty good formula."