Defense keys Newcomb win over Whitehorse

By Alastair Lee Bitsoi
Navajo Times

NEWCOMB, N.M., Sept. 1, 2011

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(Special to the Times - Donovan Quintero)

Newcomb's Casey Manuelito runs towards the sideline last Friday in Newcomb, N.M. Newcomb defeated Whitehorse, 22-12.

For the Newcomb Skyhawks football team lockdown defense was the key to their win against the Whitehorse Raiders, as the Skyhawks turned a narrow game into a 22-12 victory during their season opener on Aug. 26.

But it took until the fourth quarter for the Skyhawks to realize that if they did not minimize their mistakes, they were going to lose against the Raiders, who held a 12-6 advantage going into the final period.

After getting rid of their first-game jitters, the Skyhawks started the fourth period with a brand new attitude - they were not going to lose.

Seconds into the fourth and on two plays, the Skyhawks scored a touchdown off a 50-yard dash and scored again on a two-point conversion putting the team in the lead, 14-12, with 8:35 remaining in the period.

With 2:32 left in the game, the Skyhawks intercepted a Raider pass and eventually scored another touchdown then made a two-point conversion on that drive down the field, resulting in the 22-12 final score.

An improved offense with a balanced attack of running and passing and better defense were factors that led to the win for the Skyhawks.

Skyhawks head coach Gary Thompson said he was happy his team pulled out the win but was not satisfied with the way his team played.

"We have to play a lot better than we did to win," Thompson said, adding that simple mistakes would need to be eliminated for his team to be successful this season.

Thompson, who has over 25 years of coaching experience at seven different high schools and at Scottsdale Community College and the University of Northern Colorado, is in his second year as head coach of the Skyhawks football program.

In his first year, he led the Skyhawks to an overall record of 5-4. This year he expects his team, which includes mostly seniors, to make noise in District 1-2A.

The seven-team district includes Cuba, Dulce, Navajo Pine, Navajo Prep, Newcomb, Ramah and Tohatchi.

Thompson said Dulce, who won the district title last year, and Ramah, who historically have had a strong football team, are the two teams to beat this year in the district.

To maintain competitiveness in the district race, the Skyhawks are relying on a standard defense with 4-3 and 5-2 sets, and run a multiple pro set on the offensive side.

Thompson also said he is searching for senior leadership this year after losing a senior-laden group of players on last year's team and a couple other players to other high schools.

Tight end and defensive lineman Travis Allen, wide receiver and center Arnold Edsitty, quarterback Jeremiah Barber - all seniors - and junior tight end and defensive lineman Landon Yazzie are some of the returning players Thompson is depending on for much-needed leadership.

Compared to last year's team, which relied heavily on its running backs, this year's team could see more success with a passing offense, said Barber.

"I want to do better than last year," Barber said. "Last year we mostly ran and this year we have a passing offense."

To have success in the passing game, Barber said, it's important for his linemen to block the line, for the receivers to catch his passes, and for him to throw high-percentage passes.

"Our team goal is to win every game and make it to state," added Edsitty, who had two interceptions against the Raiders.

Asked about winning their first game, Edsitty said, "It felt great. I hadn't had an interception in a long time."

At their morning practice the day after the Whitehorse game, Thompson went over the team's statistics and awarded some of his players with stickers they could place on their helmets.

Thompson reminded his players that if they accomplish 70 percent of their team goals on the defensive, offensive and special teams, they would win more games and have a successful season.

"If you meet seven of those goals, you will win the game," Thompson said to his players. "Stickers are awarded based on team efforts."

Against the Raiders, the defensive team was awarded the most stickers for achieving their goals, which included recovering two or more fumbles and converting plays on one or more interceptions.

Defensive plays, Thompson said, were important for their first win of the young season.

In addition to being coach, Thompson said, he teaches his players about life skills.

"Football is just like life," Thompson said. "It takes people working together to work together. It's a challenge to get everyone on the same page."

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