From 2012-2013, the Newton Eagles didn't lose a game in the regular season, putting together an overall record of 25-2 -- the only two defeats coming late in the playoffs.

Newton had been so dominant during that run that both losses -- a 39-22 setback to Cameron Yoe in the 2012 semifinals and a 55-36 loss to White Oak in last year's regional semis -- were considered upsets.

This season, however, Newton has taken an altogether different path in reaching Thursday's Class 3A Division II state championship game against Waskom. The Eagles lost three of their first four games, and many wondered if they could recover in time to make a run at a district championship.

Newton coach W.T. Johnston wasn't one of them.

"We played the toughest schedule in the state in 3A. We played all 4A Division I and Division II schools, that was a lot of it. We had to replace several guys on the defense. I knew we were good, I knew the team was there, we just had to come together."

Newton struggled in its season opener against Tatum, losing 32-7. Then, after a solid win over Bridge City, the Eagles suffered consecutive losses to Henderson (41-32) and Orangefield (26-20) heading into their non-district finale against state-ranked West Orange-Stark.

The Eagles rose to the challenge against WO-S, dominating the eventual 4A Division II state finalist, 19-7, on Oct. 3.

Newton's Roney Elam turns the corner during the Eagles' 48-21 semifinal win over Blanco on Dec. 12 in Waller. (Sherry Tracy,

"I don't know if it was that more than losing to Orangefield," Johnston said of the season's turning point. "I knew the team was there, but we just weren't playing right. We weren't playing together as a team, that was the whole key. We needed to get some of that fixed and we did. After the West Orange game, we didn't think we could lose after that."

And they haven't.

Newton blew past its District 11-3A competition, which included an impressive 44-26 defeat of previously unbeaten Corrigan-Camden. During the playoffs, the Eagles have outscored the opposition by an average of more than 32 points.

"At lot of these kids started as sophomores in the semifinal game (vs. Cameron Yoe) two years ago," Johnston said. "They're all seniors now; they're the older ones now."

Like always, Newton relies on speed in the backfield. Running backs Calum Foster and Jace Thomas have each rushed for more than 1,500 yards on the season. Johnston said the two backs compliment each other well.

"Calum averages 11 yards a carry," he said. "He doesn't have as many carries as Jace, but he's hard to catch, very elusive. But he's also a strong kid. He was on the state championship 4x100 sprint relay team as a sophomore, and again as a junior. Jace is kind of a different back. He's not as elusive, but he's the strongest kid in the program. He's about 170 pounds, but he squats 600 pounds, a powerlifting type. He benches 385 and squats 600, and that's not normal strength."

Leading the offense under center is senior Texas A&M commit Roney Elam, who doubles as a playmaking defensive back.

"The thing about him on offense, when you start keying in on our backs, he can turn it upfield," Johnston said of Elam. "He was on the state championship relay team, too. Teams have to account for him running the ball. We've kinda held him back this season just to make it this far. We really didn't have to run him, but he can run the football really well."

Newton's state-title game opponent, Waskom, shares similar team speed, but Johnston said the Wildcats bring much more to the table.

"They have a lot of gadget plays and trick plays that they run, and they're very good in the kicking game," he said. "We have to spend time working on that, but because they onside kick so much and have a couple different ones. And they don't have one guy over there on offense; they have a couple guys that run the ball for them."

2014 Newton Eagles Season Results

Aug. 29at TatumL 39-7
Sept. 5Bridge CityW 45-14
Sept. 12OPEN
Sept. 19HendersonL 41-32
Sept. 26at OrangefieldL 26-20
Oct. 3West-Orange StarkW 19-7
Oct. 10*at DeweyvilleW 45-0
Oct. 17*CrockettW 55-19
Oct. 24*at Corrigan-CamdenW 44-26
Oct. 31*at GarrisonW 39-6
Nov. 7*HemphillW 49-0
Nov. 14vs. New Waverly (at Hardin)W 46-6
Nov. 21vs. Dublin (at Buffalo)W 56-13
Nov. 28vs. Franklin (at Palestine)W 49-21
Dec. 5vs. Rogers (at Shenandoah)W 32-7
Dec. 12vs. Blanco (at Waller)W 48-21
Dec. 18vs. Waskom (at Arlington)L 41-22