QUINCY -- Each game has one moment when Quincy High School junior linebacker Nate Wilson believes he can relax enough to catch his breath.
"That's usually halftime," Wilson said.
He and the rest of the QHS football team's defense are on high alert until then.
The quick-strike nature of Quincy's offense has resulted in 18 scoring drives of three plays or less and 11 touchdown runs of 50 or more yards, forcing the defense back on the field in short order. The Blue Devils, who will play for the Western Big Six Conference on Friday at home against Moline, have responded relatively well to that, allowing 144 points through seven games, second best in the league.
"We're trying to be better than the offense," senior cornerback Avae Ball said. "They're putting up big numbers. We're trying to do the same thing."
It hasn't been easy.
For example, in the 63-12 victory over United Township, the offense scored on all six first-half possessions. Three of those were one-play drives, and the Blue Devils held the ball for only 5 minutes, 11 seconds. That meant the defense was on the field for more than 18 minutes before halftime.
"There have been times where we're just catching our breath, and it's time to get back out there," senior linebacker Cross Ward said. "We have to be ready to go."
It can be taxing.
"You think, ‘Man, I got to go out there again,'" Wilson said.
The Blue Devils don't mind.
"It's a challenge," Ball said. "But we're getting used to it."
They're turning it into a point of pride. The more stops the defense makes, the more opportunities the offense has to score. The Blue Devils have scored a touchdown on all 23 offensive possessions in the first half of their first four league games. Senior wingback Jirehl Brock has 10 of those touchdowns, while junior wingback Adonte Crider has six.
"I believe Jirehl is the best player in the state of Illinois," QHS coach Rick Little said. "When you start with a guy like that, you have such an advantage. And we've seen the evolution of Adonte, not only as a runner but, most impressively, he's become a more physical presence on the offensive side.
"But you can't do that -- and I know this is cliche -- without the big boys up front."
The same holds true defensively. The linebackers and defensive backs can't make plays unless the line is getting penetration and pressure.
"Our mentality is there, just like it has been since Week 1," Wilson said. "That bulldog mentality of going 100 percent every single play is what we want to have."
Every stop the Blue Devils get, no matter how brief the break is between snaps, adds to their advantage.
"We take pride in it," Ball said. "We know the offense is going to put more points on the board. So if we go out there and stop them, we have a better chance of winning."
The Blue Devils have done that enough to earn a title shot.
"We've learned to play as a team," Ward said. "We've learned to stand together."