Front four leads improving Raider defense

Nettleton defensive lineman Javontae Wallace grabs Mountain Home’s quarterback for a sack during the Raiders’ victory over the Bombers. Nettleton hosts Greene County Tech on Friday for Homecoming.

JONESBORO — Nettleton’s opponents have found points much harder to come by this fall.

The Raiders have given up only 63 points through six games after beating Paragould 49-0 last week for their second shutout of the season. Through six games last year, Nettleton’s defense had yielded 168 points, an average of 28 per game.

“They’re playing much better, that’s for sure. I think there’s a different mentality,” said Nettleton coach Steven Hampton, whose team hosts Greene County Tech on Friday for Homecoming. “We’ve played a lot more four-man front; depending on who we’re playing has determined that, what style of offense. I think this has turned out to be a really good unit.”

Only Mountain Home and Pocahontas have had much success against the Raiders (6-0, 3-0 conference), combining to score 49 points.

Nettleton gave up just 14 points in its first three 5A-East conference games, victories over Batesville, Brookland and Paragould. The Raiders also shut out Blytheville in their season opener.

“I think we’ve played pretty well. We’re still growing and still learning, but I think our kids are improving,” Hampton said. “I think we’ve played really well at times. Really it starts up front for us. When those guys are playing really well, they can dominate the line of scrimmage.”

Junior tackle Jordan Pigram leads the Raiders’ front four with 13 tackles behind the line of scrimmage. Pigram has had eight tackles for loss in the last two games, including five against Brookland.

Junior nose guard Kam Phillips and senior end Javontae Wallace have nine and eight tackles for loss, respectively. Seniors Ekylen Butler-Parnell and Jorge Salas are also making plays on the defensive front for the Raiders.

“Those guys have all played really well, but it starts with Jordan,” Hampton said. “He’s the one who gets most of the attention and rightfully so. He’s making a lot of plays.”

Junior linebacker Blake Brown has 62 tackles and Hampton praises senior linebacker Orion Pugh for filling a role at his position. Pugh, who returned an interception for a touchdown against Brookland, played running back last fall.

Senior cornerback Juan Badillo has two interceptions. Senior safeties Dorian Tucker and Markellin Barber have also picked off passes.

Hampton said co-defensive coordinator Allen Johnson, who spent the last seven seasons as an assistant coach at Arkansas State, makes the calls for Nettleton’s defense.

“He’s kind of been given the reins. We went over everything we’ve done in the past and we tried to keep the terminology as close to the same as possible to make it easier on the kids. That way we (as coaches) have to learn the terminology,” Hampton said. “He’s been doing great. There’s definitely his fingerprint on this defense. He’s leading that side of the ball.”

Hampton anticipates a run-heavy approach from GCT (3-3, 1-2), which is coming off a 17-14 loss at Brookland. A fourth-down touchdown pass in the final minute lifted the Bearcats past the Eagles, who had four turnovers in the second half.

“They like to play hard-nosed football. They’re going to try to run the football, much like what we’ve seen. It seems like that’s what everybody has kind of gone to since the Pocahontas game,” Hampton said. “Everybody has tried to copy or emulate what they tried to do to us, so we’ve gotten that a lot. They already do similar stuff as well. It’s just a hard-nosed, tough style of game. That’s what we’re expecting.”

Nettleton finished with 535 total yards against Paragould on a night when the Raiders’ starters made an early exit. Quarterback Cameron Scarlett passed for 203 yards and two touchdowns, raising his season totals to 791 yards and 12 touchdowns.

Running back Koby Bradley finished with 135 yards and three touchdowns rushing. Bradley’s season rushing totals include 742 yards and seven touchdowns.

Hampton said the Raiders have benefited from the return of all-state tackle Moses Williams, who came back from an ankle injury two games ago.

“You always worry about execution, not being sloppy. We ran the ball well and I thought we threw and caught the ball well,” Hampton said of the Paragould game. “I’ve been really pleased. Getting Moses Williams back has been a huge, huge boost to our run game for sure.”

GCT defeated Nettleton 28-21 in last year’s meeting, halting a seven-game losing streak in the series. The Raiders lead the all-time series 26-16.