A key component to the Evans High defensive unit was missing Friday: Senior captain Taylor Hooven was out with a shoulder injury.
That left Evans coach Marty Jackson with one man to look to when the defense took the field in the first round of the Class AAAA state tournament.
"Ben Rouse has been playing good all year," he said. "He's our leading tackler, and the heart of our defense."
Rouse led an Evans defense that held Lee County at bay as the Knights went on to win by 19 points. It was the ninth time in 11 games this season that the defense has held its opponent to fewer than 20 points. With an offense that averages more than 23 points per game, it makes for a 9-2 Evans team headed for the second round of the Class AAAA state playoffs.
Rouse said it's no surprise to him.
"We knew we were going to be good this year, but I think it may have taken some time for other people," Rouse said. "After the Statesboro game everybody started to believe."
Rouse is one of those unnamed heroes who has rarely made the box score in those 11 games this year. He plays on the wrong side of the ball for that type of attention, but opposing quarterbacks and tailbacks know his name, or at least his number, well.
"I've taken a couple of licks from Ben in practice," senior quarterback Kevin Millward said. "You know when coaches always tell you to practice like you play. He really does that all the time."
The 5-foot-9, 190-pound linebacker might not have the size to immediately intimidate at first glance, but wait until he finds a hole through the offensive line.
"He's a firecracker," Millward said. "He's always blowing up the holes in the line."
That might be part of the reason why Rouse leads the Knights in tackles. He guessed at his total tackles at just more than 100 this season. It's a far cry from last year's performance when he spent more than half the season on the bench with an ankle injury.
"When he got hurt in that Greenbrier game, that was a pivotal loss," Jackson said. "We just weren't the same without him the rest of the year."
Rouse will be behind the defensive line again this Friday when the Knights travel to undefeated Northside High School.
His No. 1 job is to hit people. He said that's why he loves the sport.
"I'm from a family full of basketball athletes, but I wanted to play football," he said. "You can hit people without getting in trouble."
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