by John Unrein
The anticipation ended and the Grain Valley Eagles sideline erupted as a pass to the end zone from Fort Osage quarterback Greg Menne fell to the ground incomplete on 4th down to the end the game. The shutout remained intact by the Eagles black shirt defense as they improved to a record of 6-0 with their 35-0 victory over the Fort Osage Indians on October 2nd.
The Eagles were unyielding in creating sacks, tackles for loss, and turnovers against their opponent. Grain Valley’s defensive line has been without an essential cog over the last two weeks. Senior Quincy Jones has been out with a shoulder injury. The combination of Josh McCoy, Ethan Schaaf, Grant Ward, and Sawyer Farris have teamed with Donovan McBride to make a formidable rotation up front for the Eagles.
“Quincy (Jones) is out right now and he’s a major contributor. We’ve been telling those guys, especially Schaaf, who’s a young guy that works his tail off every day to keep grinding. We are getting better each week,” McBride said.
“We keyed on their wing back tonight in making a ‘rhino’ call because we knew they were going to run. Our coaches continue to evaluate film and put us in the correct position to make plays. It makes our jobs easier to do as players.”
McBride, Farris, and McCoy each had a .5 sack and one tackle for a loss in treating the offensive lineman in front of them like turnstiles and spending a good portion of time in the Indians backfield. Elbow lifts and arm under techniques by the Eagles defensive front reigned as they executed fundamentals taught to them by defensive line coach Erik Stone.
The wry smile of Eagles defensive coordinator Pete Carpino after the game said it all. Grain Valley held Fort Osage to 106 yards of total offense on 59 plays, good for only 1.8 yards per play by the Indians. Carpino was quick to praise the effort of his coaches and players in preserving their shutout victory.
“Our defensive line did great. That group is starting to gel. We’ve also got a good one in Quincy Jones that we are looking forward to getting back. Guys that have ‘motors’ like they do, it makes a big difference. They might get beat on one play, but the next one they go at it again,” Carpino said.
“We talk and coach fundamentals a lot. We emphasized it at the half along with taking care of their gap of responsibility up front. We were gap sound pretty much the whole game and that leads you to play good defense.”
“Coach (Erik) Stone is a relentless football coach. He continually drills the defensive line. Just when you think he should stop, he does it some more. It makes a huge difference in the confidence of our kids. We’ve got some talented kids now and it pays off.”
Carpino continued, “I’ve seen Coach Stone coach kids hard who probably wouldn’t play on Friday night end up being really good contributors because they bought into what he was teaching. He’s an incredible coach. Our entire defensive staff does a great job. I can just put an umbrella up at practice and watch (Matt) Curts, (Dominic) Giangrosso, (Ben) Andes, and (Erik) Stone go to work,” Carpino stated with a chuckle.
The consistent pressure faced by Fort Osage led them to turn to fade passes and quick wide receiver screens to the outside of their formations. Grain Valley cornerbacks Trent Knox and Brayden Terry were up for the challenge. Both were fluid in turning their hips, leveraging inside position, and pursuing to the ball carrier.
Knox would force a key Fort Osage turnover at the 7:50 mark of the second quarter to go along with his 2 tackles. Terry would rack up 1.5 tackles as well, and both provided tight coverage on the outside of the Eagles defense.
“We had a big focus on their receivers. We let their short game happen (in front of us). Our job was to come up and secure the tackle in getting them on the ground. We gave them space (cushion) in our drops so that they didn’t hurt us with the vertical routes,” Knox said.
“I was successful in seeing the football (on the turnover) and punched it out before I hopped on it.”
Terry added, “They were trying to hit screens on us and got a few early in the game. The last one, I saw what they were going to do and came up and put a hit on the receiver.”
Rounding out the sound defensive effort by the Eagles was the play of linebackers Hunter Newsom, Zach Kirk, and Jayden Jacobson. Newsom would compile 14.5 total tackles, including 5.5 tackles for loss. Kirk would continue his effective timing on blitzes and add 2 sacks to go along with his 7.5 tackles. Jacobson continues to be active in setting the edge (not allowing rushers to his outside shoulder) on his side of the defense. The senior outside linebacker would compile 4 tackles, including a .5 tackle for loss.
The confidence from their wrestling backgrounds displayed when tackling is apparent by Newsom and McBride. There is little hesitation in capturing an opponent’s legs and getting them on the ground. A benefit reaped from being a multi-sport athlete.
“The biggest thing with wrestling, and Donovan (McBride) can attest to this to, is that it helps you understand leverage. It gives you confidence in the timing and quickness of using your hips in getting to someone’s legs. That is why wrestlers make the best football players and vice versa,” Newsome said.
Offensively, Grain Valley continued their streak of scoring at least 30 points in each game they’ve played this season. It was not without adversity though.
Fort Osage, under the leadership of head coach Brock Bult game planned against the Eagles rushing attack and found success early in the contest by “pinching” (crossing the face of the offensive tackle or tight end in front of you to the inside gap) their defensive ends. This limited the previous success Grain Valley has enjoyed with running their “down” (off-tackle trap with a backside pulling guard) play.
Eagles head football coach David Allie responded by running outside with option plays, sweeps, and attacking the Indians single high safety with vertical passing route combinations. This mixture yielded 355 total yards for Grain Valley’s offense in what was a sensational night for quarterback Cole Keller.
Keller would rack up 145 yards on the ground to go along with 89 yards passing. The improved fundamental footwork of Keller when throwing the football under Allie’s tutelage has led to improved accuracy. Evidence of this can be found in Keller’s two touchdown passes that were executed with pinpoint precision.
Keller synchronizing the turning of his hips to the receiver and his back leg planted firmly in the ground while his lead leg is out in front has permitted his elbow to stay up and his hand come over the top cleanly in his release. Eagles wide receivers Carter Vrienich and Parker Bosserman each hauled in touchdown passes from Keller in the second and fourth quarters, respectively.
“Boss (Bosserman) requested the fade pass. When it’s someone like him, you’re going to trust him that it’s there. Sure enough, I put it up there and he made the catch,” Keller said.
“The one before the half to Carter (Vrienich) was a great play call. The safety was my read and I moved to get a better a look. ‘V’ (Vrienich) made a great catch and an even better run to extend our lead. I had a lot of time behind the line tonight.”
Allie appreciated his team’s effort along with finding opportunities for improvement after the game.
“We tried to find creases offensively that we could take advantage of. They did a good job of pinching their defensive ends against us, which we turned to the outside in our adjustment with moving the football,” Allie said.
“One thing I didn’t like was they (Fort Osage) had ‘juice’ or the energy to start the second half. We did not match it early on and then caught fire. We need to come out of the half better than that.”
“Our kids continue to believe in one another. The shutout by our defense tonight was awesome.”
Allie concluded, “Cole (Keller) is a confident player. Teams are going to continue to account for his running ability. His improved footwork (while passing) is a testament to him being committed to his craft. He has bought in and wants to play college football. He’s a sound leader for our team.”
Grain Valley (6-0) will host the William Chrisman Bears (1-5) at Moody Murray Stadium on October 9th.
Top: Donovan McBride and Hunter Newsom celebrate a big play by the Eagles defense. Below: Keller takes off down the Eagles sideline.
Photo credit: John Overstreet