Not a single New Diana football player was born the last time the Eagles were in the third round of the playoffs.

But there's always a first time for everything, which has been the name of the game for Robbie Coplin since he took the head coaching job in 2016.

Coplin came to town as a brand new head coach with a new philosophy: throw the ball, and throw it a lot. It was new territory for a program that had long leaned on its running game, and it didn't come without headaches along the way.

"I remember my first day I took the kids out and we were trying to throw the ball around," Coplin said on Wednesday. "We probably dropped 90 percent of the passes that we threw, if the ball even got to the receiver. It was one of those deals where you want to think, 'What have I gotten myself into?' But, I trusted the process. We took the kids to play 7-on-7 and played in as many tournaments as we could. We played big teams with much better athletes than we had, and that's helped us more than anything."

Evidenced by New Diana's first third-round playoff trip since 1995, the process is working.

"There's a lot of excitement in the community," said Coplin, whose team faces Leonard at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Ford Center in Frisco in the Class 3A Division II Region II semifinals. "Coming in I had to prove myself and our philosophies to everyone in town. We got the chance to start winning this year and our kids have just been really working hard. We didn't have many big crowds when I first got here but they've just grown exponentially."

New Diana (9-3) has risen to become one of the top offensive teams in East Texas, averaging nearly 500 yards per game. More than 350 of those yards per game have come through the air, thanks to senior quarterback Jackson Sampson's 4,216 yards through 12 games.

Sampson's 55 touchdowns are at least 16 better than any other quarterback in East Texas. Senior receivers TJ Rogers and Cody Payton are second and third, respectively, in East Texas in receiving yards and have combined for 39 touchdown catches.

Even Coplin said he's raised his eyebrows at what his offense has accomplished this season.

"It's definitely surprised me a little bit. I never would have imagined that we would have a quarterback with over 4,000 yards or had two receivers close to 1,500 yards each in a season," Coplin said. "But that's a tribute to them and how much work they've put in. I wish I had them for another year."

Defensively, New Diana played its best game of the season last week in its area-round win over Leonard. The Eagles gave up a season best eight points in their 36-8 victory, which Coplin said is happening at the perfect time.

"Our defense had really good practices last week. They were probably more focused than we have been all year," Coplin said. "It's really good to see that and it makes you think this is the time of year where you want to be peaking as a football team, and hopefully that's one of the things that continues this week because we're going to need a good defensive effort against Jacksboro."

Coplin said he's confident his team will be able to throw the ball on Jacksboro, which took down one of East Texas' top 3A teams last week in previously unbeaten Harmony. But the key will come from his defense and its ability to put the ball in Sampson and Co.'s hands.

"We are really going to have to get some stops and keep them from chewing up the clock so we can get more possessions on offense," Coplin said. "It's going to take a full team effort tomorrow night when we play them and hopefully our defense will live up to their newfound height as last week and keep this thing rolling."

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