ANDERSON — Anderson-Shiro came out swinging against third-ranked Newton and had the two-time defending Class 3A Division II state champions on the ropes early — but it couldn’t hold the Eagles there forever.
Newton scored 26 straight at one point and rallied from a 12-0 deficit to beat the Owls 32-18 on Friday night at Owl Stadium, clinching the District 12-3A Division II title in the process.
“I was so proud of the way we came out,” Anderson-Shiro coach Brad Hodges said. “Nobody really gave us a shot outside of the locker room.
“They worked all week with the idea that we’re as good as these guys and they came out and were really pressed to show it in that first half. We rocked them early and you knew it was going to be a slugfest all the way to the end.”
Friday’s contest was for the district title as Anderson-Shiro (8-2, 3-2) would have earned at least a share of the crown with an upset of the Eagles (9-1, 5-0). However, the Owls finished in a three-way tie for second with Corrigan-Camden and Hemphill and slid to the district’s fourth playoff seed on points differential.
Anderson-Shrio will open the playoffs against District 11-3A-II winner Daingerfield next Friday in Kaufman.
The Owls couldn’t have asked for a much better start against Newton.
Cad Roebuck ended the Eagles’ game-opening drive with a fourth-down sack, and Anderson-Shiro quickly nabbed the 6-0 lead when quarterback Cole Werner connected with Logan Shead on a 14-yard touchdown pass with 9:03 to go in the quarter.
Defense was key for the Owls throughout the opening half as two more defensive stops, including another fourth-down sack by Roebuck, kept Newton from answering.
Anderson-Shiro then extended its lead on their first snap after an Eagles punt when Zacarrius Haynes broke a 75-yard touchdown run up the middle, making it 12-0 with 10:57 remaining in the second quarter.
But the Owls’ two early scoring drives would account for much of their first-half offense as Newton’s salty defense stepped up the rest of the way.
The Eagles finally cashed in with 9:36 to go in the half when tight end James Sylvester pulled in a 39-yard scoring pass from Nate Williams, cutting the Anderson-Shiro advantage in half.
After the teams exchanged a sequence of punts, Newton got the ball with 4:21 remaining and started hammering on the Owls’ defensive line on the ground.
The Eagles had eight consecutive runs at one point before an 18-yard pass to Robbie Phillips helped set up a 2-yard touchdown run by DeAnthony Gatson to tie it with 10 seconds left in the half.
Zach Gulley ran in the two-point conversion — the only successful extra-point conversion of the contest — to give Newton a 14-12 lead going into the break.
“We didn’t play a real clean game and a lot of credit goes to the other team,” said Newton coach Drew Johnston, who is in his first year at the helm of the program his father WT Johnston turned into a juggernaut. “Coach Hodges has got them guys going. I told our guys all week that they were going to play their butts off and they did. It was senior night for them and it was for the district championship. We needed to clean some things up but we did enough to win in the end.”
The elder Johnston, who led Newton to two state titles and a third title game appearance in the last five years, died in May after a lengthy battle with lung disease and complications stemming from a 2015 lung transplant.
After halftime, the Owls continued to slug it out on defense and kept it a two-point game for much of the third quarter. However, an interference penalty and a late hit penalty helped Newton get down field for Williams’ 9-yard touchdown pass to Dominique Seastrunk with 4:03 remaining in the third, making it 20-12.
After another Anderson-Shiro drive stalled, a 48-yard yard pass to Seastrunk helped set up Gatson’s 9-yard touchdown run that made it 26-12 with 10:34 left in the game.
The Owls didn’t go quietly, quickly answering with Werner’s 55-yard touchdown pass to Shead up the middle with 9:29 to go. The two-point pass failed after a holding penalty, keeping it an eight-point game.
“You’ve got several [NCAA] Division I athletes on that other side of the ball so any time you’re going up against something like that, you’ve got to pick your spots,” Hodges said. “Our coaching staff did a really great job of coming up with an offensive game plan where we could kind of scratch and, when we saw an opportunity to go for a big play, we’d go. We executed about 50 percent of the time tonight so that’s something to build on.”
Corban Shead then electrified the home crowd when he picked off a pass and returned it to the Newton 33 on the Eagles’ next offensive snap.
But Anderson-Shiro’s hopes took a hit when a touchdown pass to Ca’Darrius Williams was waved off because of a penalty and the Owls turned it over on downs four plays later with 5:43 remaining.
After another turnover on downs for Anderson-Shiro later in the quarter, Newton largely iced the game with Gatson’s third touchdown run, making it 32-18 with 1:39 left.
The district title marks Newton’s eighth straight as well as the program’s eighth consecutive perfect district season. The Eagles haven’t lost a district game since 2011.