EDMOND — At this point last season, Edmond Memorial was not controlling its own playoff destiny.
The Bulldogs were still able to win one of their final two games and slide into the playoffs.
Now, they are in a situation where they control their own destiny with a 5-3 overall record and 3-2 record in District 6A-4 entering this week's crucial Edlam matchup with No. 6 Edmond Santa Fe that could decide anywhere from second to fourth in the district.
And much of the credit should go to the improved defense.
“I think our ability to be able to get back to the quarterback and pressure him, and just kinda blowing up the offensive line on run plays has been real good for us this year,” said Memorial senior linebacker Jake Mammen, who led the team with 84 tackles entering last week's 17-3 loss to Southmoore.
Memorial's defense has seen drastic improvements this season. The most notable is allowing just 15.6 points per game this season, nearly half of last season's average.
The largest total of points the Bulldogs have allowed this season is 32, which came during a Week 2 loss to Enid. The Bulldogs are also the only team to hold No. 3 Lawton to less than 37 points during a 28-21 loss on Sept. 27.
Coach Justin Merideth credits that to his players maturing.
“A lot of those guys were sophomores or first-year players last year, and now they have an understanding what they need to do and where they need to be and the technique they need to play,” he said. “I think it's physical and mental maturity.”
Memorial's defense is led by Mammen, who is receiving recruiting interest from Iowa State, Ole Miss, North Texas and Arkansas, and defensive back Ashton Antwine, who has offers from Navy, South Dakota and Washington State.
But the Bulldogs also added two playmakers to the defensive line: LaManual Singleton and Kolt Van Meter. Both had combined for 40 tackles and five sacks before Friday. Singleton spent last season in Louisiana, while Van Meter was forced to sit out after transferring from Oklahoma Christian.
Kourtney Williams has also been huge, and Merideth said part of that comes from him adding nearly 30 pounds since last season.
But it's the consistency that started showing up during spring practices that has been the biggest change from last season.
“I'm impressed with the fact that they're being a lot more consistent,” Merideth said. “We're consistently doing our jobs, so I'm very happy with that.
“I wish I could tell that we made some giant schematic change or we're doing things totally different in practice, but we're not. We're just being more consistent in our play.”
The defense will need to come up big on Friday against Santa Fe, whether it's Oklahoma commitment Justice Hansen — who is battling a high ankle sprain — or sophomore Keaton Torre at quarterback.
And Norman provided a blueprint of what to do, sacking Torre six times last week during the Tigers' 28-14 upset.
“If Justice plays, we'll be prepared for him,” Mammen said. “If Keaton plays, we'll be prepared for him. I have no doubt in my mind that if they play two quarterbacks or one is going to start and the other isn't, we'll be ready.”