PORTER -- James Sylvester had to say it.

A smile crept across his face as he stood on the sideline listening to the question. After each playoff game this season, Sylvester, a defensive lineman for Newton, found a way to declare that the Eagles would play for a state championship.

Friday, following a 56-28 victory against Boling in the state semifinal game in Porter, his proclamations became reality. The Eagles will play Gunter at 7 p.m. Thursday in Arlington for the 3A D-II state title.

"I told ya'll so," he said.

It didn't come without struggle.

Newton found itself down 14-0 in the first quarter. Boling forced the Eagles to punt on their first drive of the game. However, things looked bleak when Tamauzia Brown pinned the Bulldogs (9-4) at their own 1.

A couple of plays later after a 23-yard run from Vernon Jackson, the field was a lot easier to work with. Boling drove the entire 99 yards to score, recovered an onside kick and scored again. Within a span of less than three minutes, it had gone up by two touchdowns.

Despite this, the Eagles (14-0) never worried. Coach W.T. Johnston knew his defense would eventually get stops. He also knew that Boling wouldn't contain his offense for long.

“The first series we punted, but I saw they weren’t going to stop us," he said. "We fumbled a handoff and it was a touchdown if we don’t fumble that handoff. We saw then they weren’t gonna stop us lined up like that. And they didn’t.”

Sure enough, Newton scored twice before the quarter ended to tie the game. Although Boling scored once more to retake the lead, it wouldn't be long until Newton took it for good.

The play in which it clinched it couldn't have been more exciting.

What appeared to be a typical pass turned out to be the biggest momentum-changer of the game. Josh Foster passed to Noah Williams, who almost immediately pitched it back to running back Darwin Barlow. Barlow sprinted 69 yards for the score to put Newton up 27-21. It would never trail again.

Johnston said the play, called a hook and lateral, is something the Eagles practice often. It's a play Johnston and offensive coordinator Greg Neece have been running since they coached together at Kirbyville. Johnston gave al the credit to Neece on the call.

“Coach Neece is the best playcaller I’ve ever been around," he said. "I played against him a whole bunch when he was at Kirbyville and I always hated going against him because he could move his checkers around. He’s got more talent than he’s ever had. I told him when I hired him, ‘You score points and I’ll handle all the problems.’ That’s the way we’ve done it.”

Newton led 33-21 at halftime. The second half was where the Eagles truly pulled away. Jackson scored one more touchdown to cut the lead to five, but was shut down after that.

“We just had to keep hitting him in the mouth," Barlow said. "All game he ran hard. Give him his credit. But our defense came through.”

After tallying 153 yards in the first half, he was held to 96 in the second. It seemed he and Barlow switched roles. Barlow had 130 yards in the second half alone and scored four touchdowns in the game.

“We came out sloppy in the first," he said. "The nerves were getting to us. We had some slip ups fumbling the ball. I knew in the second half I had to come out and set the tone.”

Barlow led Newton with 149 yards rushing. Foster threw for 142 yards and rushed for 38 more.

Newton's was dominant after the slow start. The Eagles forced four fumbles from Boling and recovered each of them.

“That’s when we knew we had them," Sylvester said. "They was getting lazy. They was getting tired because we kept on hitting them in the mouth. They gave up.”

Newton's confidence has paid off this season. It's what allowed them to come back on Friday. The Eagles never doubted they would. Johnston has seen plenty of talented teams in his time as a coaching. This will be his sixth appearance in a state championship and Newton's first since 2014.

Out of all the teams he has coached, though, it's this one that stands out to him.

"The loosest bunch I’ve ever coached and that’s why they play the best," he said. "They don’t think anybody can beat them. When we got down tonight, they never blinked. We could have folded there early. Couldn’t start a game any worse than what we started tonight.

"This team has got it."

Newton 56, Boling 28

Class 3A Division II
State Semifinal
At Texan Drive Stadium, Porter

Newton               14      19      8    15    --    56
Bowling               14    7      7    0    --    28

First quarter
BOL—Vernon Jackson 2 run (Angel Mendoza kick), 7:38.
BOL—Jackson 11 run (Mendoza kick), 4:50.
NEW--Josh Foster 5 run (kick failed), 2:24.
NEW--Darwin Barlow 2 run (Davien Johnson pass from Foster), 1:13.
Second quarter
BOL—Jackson 45 run (Mendoza kick), 10:36.
NEW—Foster 1 run (2-point failed), 8:29.
NEW—Barlow 69 pass from Foster (Colon kick), 3:23.
NEW—Noah Williams 23 pass from Foster (kick failed), 0:45. 
Third Quarter
BOL--Jackson 19 run (Mendoza kick), 1:55. 
NEW--Kevin Watson 6 run (Barlow pass from Foster), 0:00. 
Fourth Quarter
NEW--Barlow 53 run (Barlow run), 8:34. 
REF--Barlow 63 run (Colon kick), 6:15.

                                             NEW                     BOL
First Downs                             11                       14
Total Yards                             494                     358
Rushes-Yards                    34-363                  59-354
Passing Yards                         142                    4
Comp.-Att.-Int.                   6-11-0                 1-2-0
Punts-Avg.                          2-40.5                 1-42.0
Fumbles-Lost                           1-0                    4-4
Penalties-Yards                       6-55                  4-20

RUSHING--Newton, Darwin Barlow 11-149, Tamauzia Brown 8-87, Josh Foster 8-38, Davien Johnson 5-67, Kevin Watson 2-17. Boling, Vernon Jackson 39-249, Deven Rodgers 15-110, Nick Dube 2-5, Quincey Hayes 1-5, Jackson Manning 1-(-3), Team 1-(-12).
PASSING--Newton, Foster 6-10-0--142, Brown 0-1-0--0. Boling, Hayes 1-1-0--4, Jackson 0-1-0--0.
RECEIVING--Newton, Brown 4-50, Barlow 1-69, Noah Williams 1-23. Boling, Luis Mares 1-4.