by John Unrein
The Grain Valley Eagles stingy defense finally relented with five seconds left in the fourth quarter on Friday, September 4th. The Eagles second string defense fought hard to keep the shutout intact to no avail against the visiting Oak Park Northmen.
Grain Valley’s sideline was extremely vocal in showering their backups with encouragement to hold their opponent out of the end zone. Oak Park’s only score would come on a rushing touchdown from Northmen sophomore quarterback Karl Knaak with five seconds left in the game.
The Eagles improve to a 2-0 record with their 36-6 victory over Oak Park. The second week in a row Grain Valley would rack up a win against a suburban conference foe. Grain Valley has stood toe to toe with two heavyweight teams early in the season and has shown improvement in all phases of the game thus far.
Defensive stalwarts for the Eagles against Oak Park included senior linebacker Hunter Newsom and sophomore safety Keegan Hart. Newsom would lead the Eagles with ten tackles, including one tackle for a loss.
Gap integrity and the ability to shed blocks was on display by Newsom all night long as he patrolled the middle of the Eagles defense in effectively stymying the Oak Park rushing attack.
“I could not do what I do if it were not for my defensive line. They do a good job of keeping guys off us (linebackers). We had to adjust to what Oak Park was doing throughout the first quarter,” Newsom said.
“They (Oak Park) had such tight alignment (with their offensive lineman splits) we couldn’t fly up (to the line of scrimmage) and get caught in the trash. We had to get off blocks and stay outside the trash to come down hill and make tackles.”
Hart continues to show growth as the last line of defense in the Eagles defense at his free safety position. Four tackles and three pass break ups would underscore Hart’s night.
No panic was shown, or penalties garnered by Hart on all his pass break ups that occurred deep in Grain Valley’s secondary. Hart also adjusted his angle of pursuit to make a touchdown saving tackle along the Eagles sideline during the first half.
The Eagles offense kicked into overdrive at the start of the second half. Grain Valley managed to engineer four scoring drives that only took a total of four minutes and thirty six seconds off the clock during the third quarter. Powering the Eagles high octane offense were senior quarterback Cole Keller and junior running back Jackson Wyatt.
The Eagles senior signal caller was able to rack up 105 yards on the ground to go along with two rushing touchdowns. Keller would also go 8 for 12 through the air with one passing touchdown.
Much of Keller’s success rushing the football would come on wide “G” or “George” runs with pulling guards around the end of the line of scrimmage. Keller for the second week in a row was quick to credit his offensive line for his success.
“We saved that play for the second half. The O-line did a great job, I wasn’t even touched on those runs. It’s easy to do what we did tonight when your offensive line is so good,” Keller said.
Wyatt also reaped the rewards of the hard work done by the group in front of him. Wyatt would average just over 11 yards per carry for the game, compiling 155 yards on 14 carries and one rushing touchdown.
Ball security was paramount for the Eagles as the game wore on with Oak Park defenders trying to strip the football to create a turnover. Wyatt was quick to credit running back coach Chris Pate for ball security work done during practice in his post-game comments.
“We always work ball security first thing at practice every day. Coach Pate does a great job in preparing us for what we face on Friday night. My job is to run hard and break tackles. We had success again this week on our ‘down’ play (off tackle trap with a backside pulling guard),” Wyatt said.
Grain Valley Eagles Head Football Coach David Allie was pleased with his team’s physical effort against a Northmen squad that possessed size and a significant number of upperclassmen starters. Grain Valley Principal Dr. Jeremy Plowman, who does broadcast announcing during football games made a point after the game in telling Allie that the Eagle’s second half was one of the best he’d seen in quite a while.
“We made adjustments offensively on our ‘down’ play at the half. Our path (by the running back) was a little too wide and we made it narrower against their nose guard and it took off for us. We were able to run the quarterback to the ‘seven’ (alignment technique of the defensive end) side and ‘down’ to the ‘eight’ side (alignment technique of the defensive end) with success,” Allie said.
“Wyatt is a great kid and he ran hard for us tonight. Cole (Keller) as well.”
Allie continued, “On the other side of the ball, Newsom has a wrestling background. He played beside Seth Dankenbring last season, and he followed his lead in wanting to get downhill fast. We’ve backed him up a couple yards this year at his position because he’s able to close so fast and it has helped him read better what the offense is doing in front of him. He’s the leader of our defense.”
“Hart is cool as a cucumber back there. He was our leading tackler last season on special teams as a freshman. He’s mature beyond his years as a sophomore in that nothing rattles him. He conducts himself in a ‘yes sir, no sir’ manner as a student of the game. Next to Hunter (Newsom), he knows football as well as anyone on the defensive side.”
The Eagles will head north of the Missouri River this Friday, September 11th to take on the Park Hill Panthers at Preston Field. The Panthers will be 1-1 heading into the game. For now, the Eagles get to enjoy starting the season undefeated as they prepare for their next opponent.
“At 2-0 we haven’t lost, so that’s always a plus,” Wyatt said to the amusement of Keller and Newsom.