W.T. Johnston Coaches Newton to Emotional Championship Victory
ARLINGTON -- W.T. Johnston couldn't keep track.
Each time Johnston, the Newton coach, turned around after the Eagles' 40-16 victory in the Class 3A Division II championship game against Gunter there was a new person to greet him. Former players and alumni came out in droves to watch Newton and now they wanted to offer their congratulations on his first championship as a head coach.
That's what 30 years of coaching in a town like Newton looks like.
"If you’re not from Newton, you don’t understand how special this is," Johnston said. "I told the kids I wanted to win this for the community."
Of course, this is likely the scene after any state championship game. Newton isn't special in that regard. However, when one discovers the story behind the championship, it becomes more clear.
Johnston went to the doctor two months ago to discover that his chronic graft versus host disease was worsening. He didn't have much time. But he didn't need much either.
"I didn’t think I was ever gonna see this," he said. "I kept praying to God. I just kept counting it down. ‘God, give me seven more weeks, give me six more weeks, five more weeks.’ I was trying to make a deal. That’s why I’m here. I think there’s more to this than just winning the state championship."
Johnston got the time, the hard part was facing Gunter. The Tigers entered the game as the defending state champions and with a 31-game winning streak.
Gunter took a 16-14 lead in the third quarter after it completed its first pass of the game to Braiden Clopton for a 23-yard touchdown.
On the ensuing Newton drive, Josh Foster threw an interception near the end zone that sent the defense back onto the field.
"We just knew we had to bow up and be more aggressive and do little things right," defensive end James Sylvester said. "Stop letting them make plays and we had to get in the backfield.”
The defense did just that, for Gunter never scored again.
When Newton got the ball back, it wouldn't make the same mistake. Noah Williams created a gap between himself and the defense and raced to a 66-yard touchdown to end the third quarter.
Williams had a career-high in nearly every category. He finished with five receptions, 143 yards and two touchdowns and was named the Offensive MVP.
“I told Noah that I’ve never seen a receiver from Newton have that good of a game and I’ve been there almost 30 years," Johnston said. "We’ve got two guys: Tamauzia (Brown) and Noah. Everybody is always looking at Tamauzia. That just helps Noah. He took over the game tonight. We probably could have thrown it up more.
"The thing about Noah, he’s 6-3, he runs real fast and he’s got really good hands. If he played at a 6A school or a 5A school in the spread, there’s no telling where he’d be able to go play. He’s a very good player. If people didn’t see that tonight, they had their eyes closed.”
After Williams' touchdown, the defense carried the team to victory. Gunter's running game, which had been dominant all season, came to a jarring halt. The Tigers had no first downs and lost 14 yards in the fourth quarter.
Williams said despite his career performance, he feels the defense won the game.
“We just never panic," he said. "We got that great defense, never worry about nothing. All we do is go out there and score and win.”
After falling behind, Newton scored 26 unanswered points to leave no doubt as to who the better team was. The victory ended Gunter's winning streak at 31 games.
“They were talking the most and we came out here and shut ‘em up just like that," Sylvester said. "Now they don’t got that winning streak anymore. It shows you that we're better than any school right now.”
When the game was over, Johnston was visibly tired. He was sweating and his breathing was labored. He went to go sit down on a bench and rest. He answered a few questions about the game, but mostly he talked about community.
When he first got sick, the team and community was there for him. Players talked all season about how they wanted to win the game for him.
“It’s very emotional," Sylvester said. "That’s my man. That’s my very favorite coach. I love him. He does a lot for us. When he can’t get up out of bed sometimes in the morning, he comes out here with us just to coach us. Late nights, working hard, that’s all we do. To put in stuff for moments like this.”
Johnston, too, wanted to give something to the community. He felt a special connection from spending much of his life here and the illness only brought him closer. He started to evaluate why he coaches and his connection with the players beyond that of football.
That's why tonight was important. Johnston wasn't sure how much longer he would live. Maybe he will still coach next season, maybe he won't. He wanted to give his players, current and former, something to remember long after he is gone.
"That’s all I thought about this week," he said. "How can I pay them back? The kids that played for me all these years that didn’t get to win it, it’s a lot for them, too. The pressure I put on myself, I have a fear to fail. A fear to lose. But I don’t want to disappoint the people of Newton. It hasn’t really sunk in yet. These guys, they’re all boys, but they’re all good kids.
"It’s a special deal for that. Some of them, I’m really, really close to, but I’m close to all of them. What people don’t realize when you’re in this position, ther’s a lot more to this than Xs and Os. Winning is easy. It’s how you treat and deal with the kids and try to make men out of them, try to make them responsible and try to teach them a life lesson. That’s what this is about."
Newton 40, Gunter 16
Class 3A Division II Championship
At AT&T Stadium, Arlington
Gunter 7 3 6 0 — 16
Newton 7 7 6 20 — 40
NEW—Darwin Barlow 28 run (Caleb Colon kick), 3:59.
GUN—Peyton Lowe 3 run (Evan Gonzalez kick), :58.
NEW—Noah Williams 11 pass from Josh Foster (Colon kick), 10:02.
GUN—FG Gonzalez 32, 6:09.
GUN—Braiden Clopton 23 pass from Daylan Bower (kick failed), 8:15.
NEW—Williams 66 pass from Foster (kick failed), :00.
NEW—LaKendrick Adams 74 pass from Foster (Colon kick), 9:35.
NEW—Tamauzia Brown 75 run (Colon kick), 7:24.
NEW—Foster 8 run (kick failed), 2:41.
First Downs 8 19
Total Yards 184 540
Rushes-Yards 45-138 44-323
Passing Yards 46 217
Comp.-Att.-Int. 4-10-2 6-12-1
Punts-Avg. 8-41.1 5-36.4
Fumbles-Lost 1-0 1-1
Penalties-Yards 6-35 8-64
RUSHING—Gunter, Dylan Jantz 11-65, Braiden Clopton 5-36, Peyton Lowe 5-21, Daylan Bower 16-15, Zach Lowe 4-10, Bryson Rigsby 2-0, Team 1-(-3), Ethan Everson 1(-9). Newton, Darwin Barlow 18-137, Tamauzia Brown 5-118, Josh Foster 11-39, Kevin Watson 7-31, Davien Johnson 1-2, Team 2-(-4).
PASSING—Gunter, Bower 4-9-2—46, Everson 0-1-0—0. Newton, Foster 6-12-1—217.
RECEIVING—Gunter, Jantz 3-23, Clopson 1-23. Newton, Noah Williams 5-143, LaKendrick Adams 1-74.