by John Unrein
It took a total team effort across four quarters for the Grain Valley Eagles to defeat the Park Hill South Panthers by a score of 35-28 on Friday, September 11th. The Eagles recipe for success included the rushing efforts of senior quarterback Cole Keller behind a solid offensive line, a timely fourth quarter interception by senior cornerback Brayden Terry on defense, and the second half strategy shift by Grain Valley to high angled “pooch” kickoffs on special teams to avoid the ball getting into the hands of Panther playmakers. The culmination of efforts allowed for Grain Valley to stay undefeated as they boost their record to 3-0.
Keller would rack up 219 yards on the ground on 26 carries, including a 74 yard scamper to pay dirt with 26 seconds left in the first quarter. The yeomen effort by the Eagles signal caller was largely due to his ability to make correct decisions reading the blocks of pulling guards on “George” quarterback sweeps for the second week in a row.
Keller was also proficient in reading when to pitch or keep the football on option runs. The decisiveness displayed by Keller in reading the alley defender led to a well timed pitch to running back Hunter Newsom for a rushing touchdown of 4 yards with 23 seconds left in the second quarter. This allowed Grain Valley to extend their lead to 28-14 as they headed into halftime.
“Last week in the first half, I learned that I need to trust the guys around me as much, if not more than myself. I did that again tonight, and it turned into my night to get the ball the most based on what their defense was giving us. I did my part in helping this team win,” Keller said.
Park Hill South features a rushing attack based on outside zone runs and the dangerous wide receiver tandem of seniors Gaige Warren and Eric Avery. Both Warren and Avery are being recruited by Division I and II NCAA football programs. This left the Eagles black shirt defense with their hands full, especially in the defensive backfield.
Grain Valley senior linebackers Jayden Jacobson and Hunter Newsom were effective in shedding blocks and taking the proper angles in limiting the Panthers ground attack. Newsom would lead the Eagles with 10.5 tackles. Jacobson refused to let the Panthers run wide to his side of the field while manning his outside linebacker position. The result was Jacobson compiling six tackles on the evening as the Eagles third leading tackler.
“The key for us tonight was to focus on your job. We had to fit up (in our gap of responsibility) and be damn near perfect every time. If I took on a lead blocker, I had to trust that the guy next to me would be there to clean things up,” Newsom said.
The Eagles discipline in maintaining gap integrity against the run compelled the Panthers to throw the ball to the outside. Thus, is the reward for taking away one of your opponent’s strengths. Panthers junior quarterback Nathan Ricco used wide screens and sideline fade passes to push the ball downfield to Warren and Avery.
Terry and fellow Eagles senior cornerback Trent Knox found themselves on an island for much of the game isolated in coverage due to the Panthers up-tempo spread offense. Terry bounced back from being beaten down the Panthers sideline on a long pass play in the first half to produce the biggest turnover of the game. Terry’s interception on 4th down in the end zone with 7:03 left in the fourth quarter helped seal the win for the Eagles.
Terry did not give up his fight for the football on the play. He was able to wrestle it away from the Park Hill South receiver on the way the ground. Terry’s interception was in part due to coverage discipline against the Panthers bunch formation (a trio of receivers compressed tightly together on the field allowing for multiple route combinations and easier releases from the line of scrimmage).
“They had run bunch formation a lot all night. We have rules we are taught to follow in coverage when we see that formation. I was playing over the top of their second vertical receiver. When I saw them throw to my receiver, I went and got the football,” Terry said.
Grain Valley Eagles Head Football Coach David Allie was happy and relieved after the game in knowing that his team fought hard to hold off an athletic opponent who matched up well against them.
“We are a confident team. There are things we can do (on offense) when they try and take things away from us. We found success rushing the football tonight which led to them blitzing the house. We continued to adjust in finding answers,” Allie said.
“Our quarterback (Cole Keller) took a few more hits tonight then we would like, but he was a warrior as well as our running backs tonight. The thing that shows we are a relentless team is that we feed off each other. The defense creates a turnover and we go down and score. Each side of the football is vocally thanking the other. That shows the belief we possess as a team.”
Allie concluded, “You have to have a short memory if you play defense. We missed some tackles early and they have a couple of (NCAA) Division I receivers out there. We knew they were going to try and run the fade against us. They did and caught one early.”
“The best thing about (Brayden) Terry is that any lack of speed or athleticism he possesses is made up for with his focus on technique and having a short memory. He is willing to compete, and it showed on his interception in the end zone. It was huge, as it was a momentum changer.”
Grain Valley will travel to Independence to face the Truman Patriots on Friday, September 18th. The Patriots current record is 0-3. However, they have lost by three points or less twice this season (to Grandview and Winnetonka during the first two weeks of the season).