Cleburne Times-Review, Cleburne, TX

Football

November 29, 2012

Zebras face toughest test of the season against unbeaten Newton

GRANDVIEW — When Grandview takes the field in the regional round of Class 2A Division I playoffs on Friday night in Bullard, the Zebras will face one of the fastest teams in the state, and their toughest challenge to date, in the form of the Newton Eagles (11-0).

“They present all sorts of challenges,” Grandview Coach Casey Walraven said. “Depending on what poll you look at, you can see them at No. 1, 2 or 3. They are very fast. They have a strong tradition, so this is going to be one of those teams that relates to Daingerfield- and Tatum-type programs. Our challenge is to win this football game however we have to do it and make sure we belong up there with those types of teams and put our name on the map with those guys.

“I challenged these seniors to be the group that makes this happen. It’s a tall order because Newton’s extremely talented. We’ll have to play our best football game we’ve ever played.”

Walraven and Newton Head Coach W.T. Johnston both said the team speed of the Eagles is their biggest strength.

“We’re going to have to be disciplined on things we do and be very smart,” Walraven said. “When you’re route running, use leverage and little things that we’ve preached all year because we knew down the road, teams like Daingerfield, Tatum and Newton were waiting. This is what it was all for, to make sure we’re prepared for those types of teams.”

“We’ve got a lot of speed on both sides of the ball,” Johnston said. “We’re not real big, but we have a lot of speed. All of our skill people are really fast. All of our secondary is fast. Our defensive ends are really fast. Our linebackers are fast. We’ve just got a lot of speed. That’s probably the main thing that’s the difference in us and a lot of people. And our kids play extremely hard.”

Walraven said after studying the Eagles on film, he noticed Newton possesses the rare combo of adding physicality to their great team speed.

“They’re really physical,” Walraven said. “I knew Daingerfield was [physical] just because of their tradition and I know Newton has the same successful tradition, but I didn’t know they were as physical as they are. We take pride every week in being the most physical and intense team, and we’re going to have to continue to step up and be better on all phases — intensity, physical play, everything. When you get in this round of the playoffs, everything has to be hitting on all cylinders because everybody’s so good.”

The Eagles have a long-standing history of playoff success, including a state title in 2005 after falling in the state title game in 2004. From 2006-10, Newton advanced to the quarterfinals each season.

Newton, a 9-3 team a year ago that lost in the area round, has yet to be truly tested this season. The Eagles’ smallest margin of victory was 23 points, against Bridge City in the season opener and Kirbyville on Oct. 5. Newton has outscored opponents 591-110 through 11 games, including a 68-17 win over Teague in the area round last week.

While the Eagles have been a dominant team this season, Johnston, a Newton coach since 1991 and head coach for two years, said he has some concern for his team if it finds itself in a tight game.

“That’s the only thing we haven’t really had this year,” Johnston said of close games. “We were tied early on, 14-14, with Orangefield, but ended up winning 40-14. That’s really the only time we’ve had to strain. I know we can always do it, but that’s a concern I have right now is we haven’t had to strain real hard this season. ... We’ve got a real different mentality than the team we had last year.”

Newton, led by senior quarterback D.J. Dean (committed to Utah), only has seven seniors on the roster and is a team made up primarily of sophomores and juniors.

Aside from Dean, all of the Eagles’ skill position players are underclassmen. The two primary running backs for Newton — Kevin Shorter and Brandon Johnson — are juniors.

“Right now, we’re playing two seniors on offense,” Johnston said. “On defense, we play three seniors. Dean goes both ways and plays defensive back.”

Shorter had 260 rushing yards on only 12 carries in the Eagles’ blowout win over Teague last week.

One of the biggest challenges facing Newton this season has been the health of the players. Johnston said his team has had several players miss games because of differing illnesses, but that the Eagles are finally healthy for the first time this season entering this game.

When Newton’s defense is on the field against the spread offense of Grandview, Johnston said the matchup for his defense is as much of a mental game as will be physical.

“We’ve just got to line up right on defense and be sound in the secondary,” Johnston said. “I think we can cover them we’re fast enough. They know that but they make you think so much on defense. That’s the key to what Coach Walraven does is he makes you think  lot on defense.

“I think Coach Walraven does a great job. I’ve been watching them a bunch. They are very well coached on both sides of the ball. It will be our toughest challenge of the year and I’m sure we’ll be their toughest challenge of the year.”

Despite a season-high four interceptions thrown by Grandview quarterback Ryan Breton last week, the Zebras were able to beat White Oak, 47-32. Breton passed for 353 yards and three touchdowns while Jordan Martinez rushed for 161 rushing yards and three touchdowns.

While Grandview has become notorious for their unique offensive style of play and formations, the Eagles’ offense is just as complex.

“We run a lot of multiple formations,” Johnston said. “We can be one-back, two-back, no backs. We’ll be in some wing, some wing-T, and we line up out of the spread some.

“We’re very multiple-based on offensive formations. We’re a lot like Grandview, but they’re doing it more out of the spread. We’re some spread, but even when we’re under center we’re in multiple formations. We’re looking for different alignments. We’re predominantly a running team but our quarterback can throw the ball. He’s a very good runner but he can throw it better this year as opposed to last season.”

With Newton scoring more than 53 points per game offensively, the Grandview defense has its work cut out, and Walraven said it will be the little things that will be the difference when the Zebra defense is on the field.

“We have to wrap up on defense and pursue the football better than we ever have,” he said. “We have to go into the game with high intensity and the fact that we believe this can happen.

“In a lot of people’s eyes, they’re going to hear that it’s not going to happen, but we have to be the ones to know that we’ve prepared for this occasion and we need to rise to it and make it happen.”

While the Zebras are heavy underdogs entering the game, Walraven said he’s comfortable with the team’s mindset and confidence.

“Seeing how tough our schedule was ... I think it gives us confidence to know that Lorena, Eastland and Lago Vista are still playing, and we were right there with a chance to win two of those games and we won the other,” Walraven said. “The kids believe and know that the big one is three games away and it starts with beating a great, great team like Newton.”

Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Friday at Panther Stadium in Bullard.

 

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