by John Unrein
Eagles sophomore safety Keegan Hart intercepted the final pass of the game as time expired on the clock. Hart would weave towards the Grain Valley sideline churning for every yard he could get. The Eagles sideline erupted around Hart before spilling out on to the field in celebration.
Grain Valley would avenge their only loss of the season against the visiting Raytown Blue Jays by a score of 42-7 on their way to securing the Class 5 District 7 Championship. No doubt a sweet feeling of redemption for the Eagles, who narrowly lost to Raytown one month prior by a score of 21-14. The success of the Eagles program had been repeated as they were the Class 4 District 7 Champions the year prior.
Hart would digest the weight of the moment with his brevity in words after the game.
“We did our job tonight. Us stopping the run allowed me to be ready when they passed. I thought to myself we are district champs on my last interception, and it made it that much more special,” Hart said.
Hart would go on to rack up 6.5 tackles and two interceptions as part of a star studded defensive effort by the Eagles black shirt defense.
Preparation played a key role in the Eagles defensive success their second time around in facing the Raytown offense. Grain Valley would stem (move defensive lineman late prior to the snap) late prior to the Blue Jays snapping the football. This would force the Blue Jays to react late on changing their blocking assignments.
The biggest beneficiary of this game plan design by Eagles defensive coordinator Pete Carpino would be Grain Valley’s linebackers. Moving defensive lineman late to cover up offensive lineman freed up Hunter Newsom, Zach Kirk, and Jayden Jacobson to have clear lines of sight as they filled and scraped to make tackles.
This was a difference maker for Grain Valley who underran rushing attempts at times in pursuit against the unbalanced offensive formations that Raytown used in their first matchup. The result nullified the size advantage that the Blue Jays possess along their offensive line.
Newsom credited a week’s worth of watching a lot of film, accepting coaching, and being determined to execute as the components for the success garnered by the Eagles black shirt defense.
“We prepared better this time around. That’s a good team with a lot of athletes, and we have to respect that, and I don’t know that we did that to the extent we needed the first time around,” Newsom said.
“I am not satisfied. We will stay hungry. I look forward to next week.”
Another adjustment made by Carpino that worked out to the Eagles advantage was tilting his defensive ends at the line of scrimmage. Facing the offensive tackle in front of them at a 45 degree angle helped Grain Valley’s defensive ends contain the outside rushing attack of Raytown. Furthermore, it forced Raytown’s offensive tackles to slide deeper out of their stance on passing downs attempting to reach their opponent on the path to the quarterback.
Senior defensive end Josh McCoy was elated with this change in the Eagles defensive game plan that permitted him to attain 8.5 tackles, a fumble recovery, and 3.5 sacks for the game. McCoy had to catch his breath and slow down his speaking rate due to his excitement when asked about his effort and his team’s victory.
“My teammates are great. This is great. We were great up front tonight on defense,” McCoy said.
“I was able to get to the edge faster tonight because we were slanted in our stances. Us having an advantage after our first step gave us even more energy due to our success. Stemming late also gave us an edge.”
Offensively, the Eagles under the direction of head coach David Allie were successful in scheming a way to neutralize the blitzes and speed they struggled to overcome in their earlier season matchup against Raytown. The result of two bye weeks for the Eagles (with William Chrisman’s forfeit the week prior to due to COVID-19) was Allie constructing an offensive formation that would hold the Blue Jays defense at bay.
The shotgun wishbone or “Rhino” formation that Grain Valley unveiled consisted of quarterback Cole Keller being flanked on either side by Newsom and fellow running back Jaxon Wyatt along with Parker Bosserman lined up at tailback directly behind Keller.
The advantage gained from the shotgun wishbone or “Rhino” formation is that the second and third levels of a defense must respect the option possibilities out of the look and play more assignment oriented football in accounting for all the offensive alternatives in the backfield. The result is a defense that is more selective on when they bring pressure with the blitz. It also becomes easier for the offense to generate “vertical push” at the line of scrimmage by sending multiple lead blockers to a gap on isolation or “iso” plays.
Allie informed his team before the game to “be prepared” to stay in Rhino the whole game if it works. The Eagles did not break from the formation until the third quarter. The result being the Eagles rushing for 267 yards on 39 attempts, good for a 6.8 yards per carry average.
“We knew against a big and fast team like that we would need to run vertically. We struggled the last time we played them blocking the backside ‘A gap’ in our one back set. Our ‘Rhino’ formation allowed us to run the ball successfully and keep our defense off the field, which we didn’t do a good enough job of the first time we played them,” Allie said.
“We were able to get better production on first and second down tonight with ‘Rhino.’ (Cole) Keller did a good job tonight at the line of scrimmage in getting us in the right play against their 3-4 defense.”
Allie continued, “Our kids have shown tremendous resilience tonight, as they have all season. We are in week twelve and we didn’t know if we would get past week six (with the pandemic). Every game is a big game because we are in it, and our kids have bought into that.”
“We wanted to get (Parker) Bosserman touches due to him being an explosive athlete. We thought he would match up well against their athleticism, and that’s why we wanted to get him touches early on and throughout the game.”
Bosserman would make good with the trust bestowed on him by his coaching staff in collecting 95 yards on the ground to couple with a rushing touchdown at the 8 minute mark of the first quarter. Equally as impressive to Bosserman’s rushing would be his display of punting on special teams that permitted the Eagles to favorably flip field position when needed.
“To be honest, I didn’t know how long we would be in ‘Rhino’ tonight. I was shocked early with how well we ran the football against them,” Bosserman said.
“I was excited to be in the backfield though. That was fun. I was yelling at our offensive line in practice all week and they definitely delivered.”
Equally as impressive to Bosserman on the ground was Keller for the Eagles. Grain Valley’s signal caller would contribute 148 yards and 3 rushing touchdowns on option keeps read correctly against Raytown’s defensive ends. Keller would add a touchdown completion for 52 yards to junior wide receiver Logan Pratt with 14 seconds left in the first half.
Keller was pleased that the offensive game plan for the Eagles worked well in securing a big playoff win for the Eagles.
“They are a big team who have some two way players. We struggled with their size the first time we played them. We wanted to tire them out by playing fast and going no huddle. We had confidence that we were well conditioned enough to get it done,” Keller said.
Grain Valley improves to 10-1 on the season. They will next travel to play the Platte County Pirates in the state quarterfinal round of the playoffs on November 20th at 7:00 pm.
Eagles quarterback Cole Keller hands off to running back Parker Bosserman.
Photo credit: John Overstreet
Eagles quarterback Cole Keller sprints to the end zone.
Photo credit: John Overstreet