Pop quiz time.

Which unit of Cullman High’s football team is this Bearcats coach talking about:

“This is as hard-working a group as we’ve had here. Everybody is on the same page mentally.”

The speaker? Nope, that would give it away.

Here’s another soundbyte:

“On Sundays, they come in here early for film. They’re really good about coming in here as a unit and lifting weights.”

Give up?

It’s Cullman defensive coordinator Matthew Hopper. And the mystery unit is his pride and joy: Cullman’s hard-nosed defense.

And he’s alone in his praise.

“Our defense still hasn’t given up a first quarter point,” said Cullman head coach Mark Britton. “Everyone has really stepped up.”

Britton is right: To go along with Cullman’s season-long first quarter shutout, the Bearcats boast a defense that has given up just 49 points all season.

Compared to last year’s unit — which gave up a school-record 298 points, in 14 games — this year’s group of no-names has more than stepped up.

The Bearcat defense pitched a shutout in the season opener — shutting down Hayden 35-0 — and followed that up with 14-point efforts against Walker, Curry and Mortimer Jordan.

And, in their signature performance so far, they held Pleasant Grove to seven points while the offense piled up 49.

And all that with a lineup full of newbies.

“Our defensive line has really turned it on,” said Hopper, who took over as defensive coordinator this season. “With our linebackers, we’re playing three new guys, but they’ve been tough.

“And in our secondary, I think Justin Self is our lone returner, so he’s been holding us together back there.”

Despite the lack of returning starters on defense, the Bearcats have not trailed in a a game this season. Against a talented Mortimer Jordan team, Cullman’s defense gave up just 229 total yards.

Which bodes well for this week’s matchup with Erwin — and the Eagles’ explosive quarterback Anthony Bowie.

Operating out of the spread system, Bowie has rushed for 445 yards on 49 carries — an average of nine yards per touch — and passed for 809 more. His 13 combined touchdowns lead the team.

“If you don’t close him down on both sides, he’s gone,” said Britton, who is 2-0 in his career against the Eagles.

Hopper agreed.

“If you rush him and don’t get him, he’s gone,” Hopper said.

Besides Bowie, Erwin’s biggest threats are 6-foot-7 wide receiver Tedarius Brown and Hence Owens, who averages over six yards per rush.

“They’re as athletic a team as we’ll face this year,” said Hopper. “They’ll try to get their athletes in the open field.”

To combat the Eagle’ athleticism, Hopper’s defense has spent most of its time on open-field tackling and formation recognition this week. With 11 black hats swarming to the ball, Hopper hopes his unit will be able to keep Erwin out of the end zone.

“It’s been a good mental week more than anything,” said Hopper. “It’s going to be a tough place to play. If you get mentally whipped, you’ll get beat.”

Kickoff is 7 p.m. tonight in Center Point.

Michael Cummings can be reached by e-mail at michaelc@cullmantimes.com or by telephone at 734-2131, ext. 258.

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