by John Unrein
The postgame team address by Grain Valley Eagles head football coach David Allie received the loudest cheers of all following their victory over the visiting Belton Pirates by a score of 22-0 on October 23rd.
Allie informed the team they could give themselves three claps for the victory, a shutout, a share of the conference title, and for not having to come in on Saturday morning for film review of the game. The last of which drew a raucous cheer from the team, culminating with senior defensive tackle Quincy Jones jumping to his feet to come and hug coach Allie, prior to patting him on the back.
The well-earned respite for the Eagles meant that they would get to sleep in on a Saturday morning prior to returning to practice the following Monday. Such are the spoils received by the victors of games in late October high school football.
Midfield with the scoreboard in the background was the next destination for an Eagles celebration. Grain Valley’s black shirt defense wanted to commemorate their shutout. Jones and senior linebacker Hunter Newsome provided posing directions and humor to assure smiles as cameras snapped their shots.
“I feel like I’m back at one hundred percent after my shoulder injury. I have to occasionally work out the soreness, but we only have upwards to go and I’m not going to miss this. We have to keep pushing,” Jones said.
“The key to success tonight up front was to beat the offensive lineman in front of us. That limits space for the running back and frees up our linebackers to come down hill.”
Newsom added, “We were prepared tonight. We learned from last week and fixed what we needed to in practice. This was going to be a dog fight and we won the battles that we needed to.”
“Our defensive lineman did a great job of holding down blockers and that freed us up at the second level to flow freely to the football. Our challenge was to bring more energy in practice and step up the physical nature of what we do.”
“I’ve been playing with a lot of guys on this team for a long time. Tonight is great because we continue to grow as a team.”
Newsom and Jones each contributed 11 and 2 tackles respectively. They were joined by sophomore Eagle free safety Keegan Hart, who turned in a gem of a game with 4.5 tackles and 2 timely interceptions. Hart continues to get himself in the correct position during his drops while reading the quarterback. The football IQ and maturity displayed by Hart is past his years and helps to secure the last line of the Grain Valley defense.
Hart’s first interception came with 7:40 left in the second quarter. That be followed by another pick with 25 seconds left in the game. Hart successfully timed his approach and jump for the ball on both occasions.
“The pressure applied to the quarterback by our defensive line helped me be successful tonight. My coaches also have faith in me. That has allowed me to celebrate with my team and enjoy this moment,” Hart said.
“We continue to do our thing. Coach (Dominic) Giangrasso has helped me with my footwork and understanding the game as a whole.”
It was the second week in a row that Grain Valley had faced a double wing “flexbone” offense. Correct alignment, assignment, pursuit, and tackling are essential to control this type of offense. Winning one on one battles at the line of scrimmage also doesn’t hurt. The Eagles were prosperous with both, permitting the shutout against a previously undefeated Belton football team, and improving on errors from the previous week against the Raytown Blue Jays.
Offensively, the Eagles found success on the ground against the Pirates. Isolation or “Iso” runs with Newsome lead blocking for senior quarterback Cole Keller were successful, as were “G” or pulling guard sweeps to junior running back Jaxon Wyatt.
Both Keller and Wyatt had space cleared for them by the Eagles offensive line made up of starters Cooper Terry, Jack Bailey, Donovan McBride, Landen Hinton, and Connor Heitman. The quintet utilized knowing the snap count to their advantage in getting off of the football and successfully executing blocks for Eagle ball carriers. The reward was Grain Valley racking up 270 rushing yards on 46 attempts, good for a 5.9 yards per rush average.
A joyous Keller was all smiles after the game. A chorus of “congratulations, Cole” was abundant as the Eagles signal caller waited for them to die down in gathering his thoughts prior to his postgame interview. The victory helped his team secure a share of the Suburban Conference White Division title as both Grain Valley and Belton end the regular season with a 7-1 record.
“There was a lot riding on this game. We wanted a bye week (that would come with an Eagles victory entering the district playoffs). A piece of the conference championship was also on our mind with this being our first time in Class 5 (at the state level). We have 23 seniors on this team that play their hearts out every single game,” Keller said.
“We want to keep going and this win puts us in the best situation possible moving forward. I am proud of this team and we will enjoy this (moment).”
Allie was delighted with his team’s performance after the game. Especially, the play of both his offensive and defensive lines up front. The later of which helped to secure the shutout for the Eagles and limit the Belton offense to just 183 total yards of offense.
“Tonight was about us running the football and stopping them from doing so. We put forth a total team effort in this win. Guys (linemen) that are unheralded and typically don’t get a lot of love took over this game and are a big reason why we won,” Allie said.
“To be as resilient as we have been all season, including the loss last week, and to put that behind us with how we played tonight is special.”
“Tuesday, we had a good, but not great practice. Wednesday morning the captains met before school about what we can do to have more ‘juice’ and that afternoon we had an early season type practice. It allowed us to get out of the monotony of the grind that you are in at this point of the season.”
Allie concluded, “They (Belton) play a tough 3-3 Stack defense. We used motion and quarterback ‘iso’ to help us get into successful situations offensively. The bye week is huge. We will not gather rust. We will watch film and tweak what’s needed. We will be ready for the next game we get to host here.”
Grain Valley’s victory gives them the top seed in the Class 5, District 7 football playoff bracket. The Eagles will next play on November 6th at Moody Murray Stadium. Grain Valley will host the winner of Ruskin and William Chrisman who will face each other on October 30th.
The Eagles could possibly face either Raytown or Belton again as they are in the adjacent bracket and part of the Class 5, District 7 bracket along with Truman and Sedalia Smith-Cotton.
Top: Running Back Jaxon Wyatt fights for yards against the Belton defense. Bottom: Quarterback Cole Keller follows the lead block of Hunter Newsom.
Photo credit: John Overstreet