ST. PETERSBURG - In its 21-7 victory over Countryside last week, Dixie Hollins put on the type of dominating defensive performance that has become commonplace for the Rebels.
The Cougars had just 207 yards of offense and their touchdown came in the fourth quarter.
"Our offense isn't going to generate much excitement," coach Mike Morey said. "Defense has been our calling card."
For years, Morey has stuck to a basic offensive philosophy of establishing the run, avoiding mistakes and taking what the defense gives them. That wasn't going to change given the Rebels had a hulking offensive line and had plenty of skill people who were adjusting to new roles.
Because of that, Dixie (9-2) was poised to go as far as the defense would take them. So far, the defense has delivered. The Rebels won a playoff game for the first time since 1996 and face Bradenton Manatee in tonight's region semifinal.
"We knew we'd have to play our role and do our part to help the team," senior linebacker Dustin Zitzmann said. "A lot of us have been around for awhile and we know what to do."
Dixie's defensive schemes are designed around its linebackers, whose range, nose for the ball and ferocious tackling style are unsurpassed. The Rebels ask their hulking tackles and quick ends to occupy blockers so the guys lined up behind them can make the play.
"We know the guys on the defensive line don't get much recognition, but they do all the little things that make everything work," Zitzmann said.
Zitzmann has come through with more than 100 tackles and has scored two defensive touchdowns. Other defenders, such as John Schaeffer and Travis Williams, also have turned in game-changing plays.
"The biggest thing we do is try to go out there and make a play," Schaeffer said. "First, we stop the run, then we go from there."
The ability to stop the run will be key tonight. Manatee (7-3) prefers to pound the ball behind a big offensive line.
"This sort of plays into our strength," Zitzmann said. "We can match up a little bit with them up front. We know Manatee has a strong team. But anything can happen."