Catch Them If You Can: Speed-Rich Waskom + Newton Clash In All-East Texas State Final
CLASS 3A DIVISION II
No. 4 Waskom Wildcats (14-1)
Newton Eagles (12-3)
5 p.m. Thursday
AT&T Stadium, Arlington
- Waskom: Whitney Keeling
- Newton: W.T. Johnston
Road to Arlington
- Bi-district: def. Linden-Kildare, 48-26
- Area: def. Leonard, 52-32
- Region II semifinal: def. Howe, 71-21
- Region II final: def. Gunter, 49-15
- Semifinal: def. Sonora, 25-21
- Bi-district: def. New Waverly, 48-6
- Area: def. Dublin, 56-13
- Region III semifinal: def. Franklin, 49-21
- Region III final: def. Rogers, 32-7
- Semifinal: def. Blanco, 48-21
- RB/DB Kevin Johnson, Sr., 5-10, 160 (125 carries, 1,883 yards, 21 TDs; 5 catches, 66 yards, 2 TDs; 6 kickoff/punt returns, 189 yards, 3 TDs)
- RB/DB Junebug Johnson, Sr., 5-7, 135 (106 carries, 1,188 yards, 14 TDs; 6 catches, 173 yards, 2 TDs; 11 kickoff/punt returns, 179 yards, TD)
- RB/LB Chan Amie, Jr., 5-11, 160 (88 carries, 955 yards, 11 TDs; 13 kickoff/punt returns, 312 yards, 2 TDs)
- FB Dillon Benton, Sr., 5-10, 170 (87 carries, 938 yards, 15 TDs; 4 kickoff/punt returns, 76 yards, TD)
- QB Trace Carter, Sr., 6-3, 175 (19 of 47, 481 yards, 6 TDs, 4 INTs; 148 carries, 916 yards, 16 TDs)
- WR/DB Eric Stephens III, Jr., 5-6, 140 (6 catches, 151 yards, 2 TDs; 3 kickoff/punt returns, 103 yards, TD)
- LB Mike Reason, Jr., 5-9, 170 (3 kickoff/punt returns, 93 yards, 2 TDs)
- RB/DB Keilon Johnson, Jr., 5-8, 140 (11 carries, 95 yards, TD)
- OL Kyle Adams, Sr., 6-4, 285
- OL John Lumpkin, Sr., 6-0, 205
Newton (stats through 14 games)
- QB/DB Roney Elam, Sr., 6-3, 175 (28 of 73, 583 yards, 3 TDs, 6 INTs; 88 carries, 397 yards, 9 TDs; 99 tackles, 4 INTs, 3 forced fumbles, 3 recoveries, 5 blocked field goals; committed to Texas A&M)
- RB/DB Calum Foster, Sr., 5-11, 186 (153 carries, 1,673 yards, 21 TDs; 7 catches, 142 yards, TD; 71 tackles, 2 INTs, forced fumble, recovery)
- RB Jace Thomas, Sr., 5-8, 175 (170 carries, 1,501 yards, 19 TDs; 7 catches, 136 yards)
- LB Tanner Holmes, Jr., 6-3, 215 (167 tackles, INT)
- DE Clayton Stuart, Sr., 5-7, 175 (96 tackles, 8 sacks)
- RB/DB Gabe Foster, Jr., 6-1, 180 (73 carries, 508 yards, 11 TDs; 2 catches, 92 yards, TD; 57 tackles, INT)
- LB Raylin Davis, Sr., 5-8, 175 (91 tackles, sack, INT, fumble recovery)
- DT Zack Conner, Sr., 5-11, 220 (83 tackles, 7 sacks, forced fumble, 4 recoveries)
- DT Dave Lewis, Sr., 6-0, 250 (72 tackles, 5 sacks)
- SS Blake Kelley, Soph., 5-9, 155 (85 tackles, 4 sacks, INT, forced fumble, recovery)
Just the facts
- Waskom is playing in the school's first-ever football state championship game.
- The Wildcats are 28-2 in the last two seasons. Waskom's previous-best two-year run was 1979-80 when it went 19-3.
- Waskom missed the playoffs every year from 1993-2012. There were three winless seasons and two one-win campaigns included in that 20-year stretch.
- For the season, the Wildcats are averaging 49.9 points and 468.3 yards per game -- 427.5 rushing and 40.8 passing.
- Waskom's average margin of victory this season is 32.4 points. Last week's four-point semifinal win was its narrowest margin of victory this year.
- The cumulative record of Waskom's opponents this season is 84-86 (.494).
- Newton is playing in the school's fifth state championship game, and first since 2005.
- The Eagles are 3-1 all-time in title games, defeating Spearman in the 1974 2A final, Daingerfield in the 1998 3A Division II final, losing to Boyd in the 2004 2A Division I final, and defeating Argyle in the 2005 2A Division I final.
- Curtis Barbay compiled a 315-96-6 record as Newton's head coach from 1975-2010, and is the state's seventh-most winningest coach of all time. W.T. Johnston took over the program following Barbay's death during the 2010 season.
- For the season, the Eagles are averaging 39.1 points and 387.3 yards per game -- 340.3 rushing and 47.0 passing.
- During Newton's current 11-game winning streak, the Eagles' average margin of victory is 32.4 points.
- The cumulative record of Newton's opponents this season is 112-71 (.612).
Key matchup: Waskom rushing attack vs. Newton defensive front. It would be wise show up on time for the kickoff, because with these two run-oriented powerhouses, the game may not last very long. Waskom and Newton have combined for just 142 passing attempts all season, and with everything on the line Thursday night, don't expect either school to change the formula that helped get them to the state championship game. Waskom's run-to-pass discrepancy is even more pronounced than Newton, having attempted roughly half as many passes on the year. Instead, Waskom uses a stable of backs to put up nearly 50 points per game. Last season, Waskom produced four 1,000-yard rushers on its way to the state semifinals. While only two Wildcats have crossed that threshold this year, five players have rushed for at least 916 yards, and all five have touchdown totals in the double digits.
Kevin Johnson leads the way with 1,883 yards and 21 touchdowns on 125 carries, but not too far behind are the foursome of Junebug Johnson (106 carries, 1,188 yards, 14 TDs), Chan Amie (88-955-11), Dillon Benton (87-938-15), and quarterback Trace Carter (148-916-16). It is quite possible that by the end of Thursday night, Waskom could finish the year with five 1,000-yard rushers. While none of the backs weigh more than 175 pounds, and only one stands taller than 5-11, Waskom has simply run away from the competition with extraordinary team speed at the 3A level. The Wildcats' five leading rushers' average long run of the season is 72 yards, and as a team, Waskom averages right at 10 yards per carry. Explosive plays are obviously a big part of the Waskom offense, and the most important of those came in the closing minutes of the Wildcats' gripping 25-21 semifinal win over Sonora. Trailing by two with a little more than two minutes potentially remaining in the Waskom season, Benton broke off a go-ahead, 71-yard touchdown run.
Newton began the season 1-3, and an inexperienced defense was the primary culprit. The Eagles gave up a total of 106 points in losses to Tatum, Henderson and Orangefield, as the Eagles went into their non-district finale against West Orange-Stark in need of a spark. The defense came to the rescue by shutting down the Mustangs, who are playing for the 4A Division II state title on Friday, for a 19-7 win. In that season-changing victory, Newton limited West Orange-Stark to a season-low in points and just 212 yards, and set the tone for what would be a dominant finish to the year. During the Eagles' 11-game winning streak, Newton's defense is allowing an average of 11.5 points per game, and has held six of those 11 opponents to one touchdown or less. While not especially big up front, the Newton defensive line is described as "quick" by head coach W.T. Johnston. Newton will need good games from interior linemen Zack Conner and Dave Lewis, along with the linebacking duo of Raylin Davis and Tanner Holmes to slow Waskom's potent and explosive ground attack.
Don't be surprised if: Big plays ultimately decide the outcome. Each team is blessed with tremendous speed on the 3A level, and have made it this far on the strength of explosive plays in the running game. Waskom's leading rusher, Kevin Johnson, shined in speed testing at the second annual ETSN.fm/APEC Football Recruiting Combine in Tyler last June by posting a laser-timed 4.42 40-yard dash -- the second-fastest of the 115 participants at the event. Meanwhile, Newton quarterback Roney Elam and running back Calum Foster were members of the 4x100 and 4x200 sprint relay teams, which took home silver and bronze medals, respectively, at the state track meet in Austin last May. Both Waskom and Newton have played great defense down the stretch, but it's quite clear that the opposing offenses will be the most explosive they've lined up against for some time. With the amount of speed-demons on each offense, it's hard to imagine either defense containing the big play consistently. The question then becomes: which defense allows the fewest long-gainers? The answer to that question will likely be the state champion come Thursday night.