The Hilliard Darby High School football team posted its first shutout of the season Oct. 12 with a 7-0 win over Worthington Kilbourne, but the Panthers' defense has been stout all season.
Darby, which is 6-2 overall and 4-1 in the OCC-Cardinal Division entering a contest at Delaware on Friday, Oct. 19, is allowing 12.4 points per game.
Leading the defensive charge is senior linebacker Nick Wile, who is on pace to challenge the program record for tackles in a season.
Wile has 96 tackles, an average of 12 per game. The program record is 148, set by linebacker Cameron Kohl in 2012. Kohl, a 2013 graduate, accumulated that total in 12 games for an average of 12.3 per contest.
Wile also has seven tackles for loss and three fumble recoveries.
"Nick is statistically one of the best linebackers we've had and we've had a lot of good ones," 11th-year coach John Santagata said. "But he means more than that to this team. He's a great student, a tremendous competitor and a true leader. He's vocal and positive and just has a knack for leadership. He has that 'it' factor that people talk about and can't explain.
"Plus, he promotes his teammates. He motivates them and encourages them."
Wile was quick to give members of the defensive line credit for his success.
"The guys up front make my job much easier," he said. "If they're doing their job, I'm doing mine. I couldn't have half of those tackles without them. Our ends, Grant Hollinger and Blayne Barnes, are doing a great job and Charlie Freewalt and Parker Stephens finally got their chance on the line after waiting their turn and they've really done great."
Other key players on defense include linebacker Alex Briggs, who has 68 tackles and 6.5 for loss, and safety Hayden Vroom, who has 64 tackles. The Panthers have 14 takeaways and six giveaways.
"Our defense has been rock solid all season, but we're doing things we shouldn't be doing offensively at this point of the season," Santagata said. "We had a bad turnover against Kilbourne, we had a bad pitch that threw a wrench into a good drive and we've been making mistakes that have hurt us. We had 300 yards of offense and scored seven points."
The Panthers were projected to be 11th in the Division I, Region 3 computer ratings this week, three spots out of a playoff berth.
After facing Delaware, they will play host to Dublin Scioto in their regular-season finale Oct. 26. Entering Week 9, the Pacers are 6-2 overall and 3-2 in the league and the Irish are 6-2 and 4-1.
"Our goal is Week 11," Wile said. "That's been our motivation all year. After the Bradley loss (16-8 on Sept. 14), every week has been like the playoffs for us. We can't make one mistake or it's over. It's my senior year and I don't want our legacy to be one of letting our school down. There's always pressure and high expectations. We want live up to them."
Running back Connor Jones leads Darby with 942 yards rushing and eight touchdowns on 148 carries, and quarterback Jack Stultz has 427 yards rushing and four touchdowns on 105 carries.
Against Kilbourne, Stultz scored on a 7-yard run and finished with 140 yards rushing and the defense made a goal-line stand in the middle of the fourth quarter.