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December 2, 2009DAYTON - As he prepared Tuesday to start his 15th high school football playoff game, senior safety Evan Brown did a good job of playing Answer Man when asked about last week's game.
What caused the big change in Dayton's defense between the first and second half of its battle with El Campo?
"In the first half, it was just a matter of inches," he said, referring to El Campo gaining 201 yards and all 16 of its points.
"People were out of position - barely - and they made us pay for it big time."
In the second half, the Bronco D, in which Brown joins defensive end Aaron Jenkins and linebacker Jordan Baxter as three-year starters, allowed only 53 total yards, zero points and Dayton rallied for a 17-16 win.
"We just came out and executed what we were supposed to do in the first place," said junior Xavier Baldwin, Dayton's other starting safety.
Jerry Stewart, the Bronco head coach, offered another reason for the defensive improvement - a failure to communicate.
"After the kickoff, our headphones went out and we didn't have any communications," he said. "We couldn't talk with the guys upstairs until the second quarter, when we finally got one headset working.
"We discovered we needed to have our nose tackle hold his position longer, so they didn't have a cut back lane. They didn't do a lot to hurt us after the first quarter."
Dayton's win over the Ricebirds sends the 11-2 Broncos on to the fourth round of the playoffs, where they'll play Brenham, also 11-2, at 6 p.m. Saturday in a rematch of last year's Class 4A-Division II quarterfinal at Katy's Rhodes Stadium.
Brown and Baldwin are key members of a Dayton defense that is often overlooked because of their team's offensive fireworks.
The Broncos are allowing just 209 yards and 15.5 points per game this season.
"In our scheme, we have to have good people at nose tackle, two ends and two safeties," Stewart said. "We place a lot of responsibility on those positions."
Brown has played both linebacker and safety during his Dayton career. He was being considered for the quarterback position after the graduation last year of Cody Green, but leg injuries in the summer altered those plans.
Baldwin plays both on defense and as a reserve running back, having rushed for 430 yards and three touchdowns while averaging almost 10 yards per carry.
"Evan's been all-district since he's been playing football for Dayton and he's second or third in his class," Stewart said. "Xavier played safety in every big game we had last year and this year.
"They better play very well Saturday night, or else we'll be sad Sunday."
Most of the attention focused on the Dayton defense in the past has been to label the Bronco stoppers as quick and small.
They're bigger this year, with Jenkins having grown from 165 pounds to 220, nose tackle Tony Hill having matured from 220 pounds to 270 and Baldwin packing 190 pounds on his 5-11 frame.
Also, there's the insertion of Aaron Ripkowski at an inside linebacker, where the former offensive lineman had to lose 15 pounds to get to 232.
"The biggest change I can see is we've gotten way more focused," Baldwin said.
Brown said the memory of Dayton's near miss last year in the playoffs is a motivator. The Broncos were 14-2 in 2008, falling in the state finals to Sulphur Springs.
"We're playing with a lot more focus," Brown said. "We had a taste of a championship last year. We want that ring this year."
The Broncos beat Brenham 42-21 last year.
"They have a whole lot of people coming back," Baldwin said. "But we've got a whole lot of people coming back on defense and we're more experienced.
"They think we can't do anything because we don't have A.J. Dugat or Cody (Green), but we're a whole lot smarter on defense this year."
And Brown's take?
"I try not to worry about what other people say," he said. "That's just adding fuel to the fire."
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