Unbeaten Newman looks to take the next step in postseason
For many years, Isidore Newman has been a very good football program.
From head coaches Tony Reginelli to Skeets Tuohy to Frank Gendusa to Ken Lass to Nelson Stewart, the Newman program has been consistently good.
There have been district championships and deep playoff runs. What has been lacking is an appearance in a state championship game, much less a state title.
The Greenies have been close. They reached the semifinals in 1991 when Peyton Manning was a sophomore and brother Cooper was a senior at the school. Newman returned to the semifinals in 2014. The Greenies reached the quarterfinals in 1992, 2002, 2007 and 2016.
A former defensive tackle and teammate of the Manning’s in the early 1990’s, Stewart is in his 12th season as head coach at his alma mater.
The last six years have been a blessing for Stewart. In an offense which requires outstanding quarterback play, with the player manning that position (no pun intended) having to evaluate and make decisions at the line of scrimmage, Stewart has been blessed with Jay Tyler (Stanford), Miles Lapeyre (Tulane) and now junior Martin Butcher at the most important position on the field.
While all three are quite talented, there is no denying the outstanding coaching and all important player development aspect of the game which has produced outstanding numbers and, more importantly, many victories for the Greenies.
Newman finished off its first unbeaten season since Peyton Manning was a senior in 1993 with a 41-0 victory at Fisher Friday night to finish the regular season 10-0.
Speaking on The Three Tailgaters Show on WGSO, 990 AM, Stewart talked about how much this season has meant to him.
“It means an awful lot coaching at my alma mater at a place I love and have tried to give my life to,” Stewart said. “I was on that last unbeaten team with Peyton. It meant a lot of our kids. We understand history and we are trying to make history. We’re having fun doing so.”
The 2017 Greenies are a diverse, talented group.
“We preach team, we have a bunch of selfless team,” Stewart said. “We just want to try to outwork and out-execute opponents. We don’t have a lot of Division I star-types. It is all about spreading the wealth, sharing. Martin Butcher has been outstanding in the pocket and our defense has been outstanding.”
Senior running back James Poche has been a stalwart and the Newman receiving corps may be the best ever, including junior Murray Calhoun, seniors Dylon Hill and Storey Charbonnet and sophomore Jarmone Sutherland. Odell Beckham, Jr. would be proud to watch this group run precise routes and catch everything within their catch radius.
To win a state championship, you must run the ball well, have balance and play good defense. The Greenies check the first two boxes well. The third is equally important and Newman has pitched three shutouts this season.
The signature victory was a thrilling 31-30 overtime win over defending Division III state champion Riverside at Lupin Field on Oct. 13, proving that this Newman team can play with the best teams in its class.
“I think it was that moment against Riverside when we got that win against a great team,” Stewart said. “To win the way we did, playing hard physical football, you felt it. We felt we had taken that next step. We hold them at a high level. We were close last year. We just wanted another shot at it. We did it by running the ball, playing defense and being efficient throwing the football.”
Newman will earn the second-seed in the Division II state playoffs. If the Greenies can hold their seed, they will be at home in the semifinals, an extremely important note if Newman once again faces likely third-seed Catholic of New Iberia and Brent Indest, a good friend of Stewart.
Catholic whipped Newman 49-21 in the quarterfinals a year ago at Lupin Field. Notre Dame will be the top-seed in Division III. Dunham (9-1) will be a high seed as well. Newman won a 41-40 thriller at Dunham in the opening round of the playoffs a year ago.
“Notre Dame will be the top-seed and it looks like we will be the second-seed,” Stewart said. “Having a bye will help us heal up and take a step back and help us to focus on ourselves in practice and to have extra time in the weight room. We’ve had success off of bye weeks in recent years. We want to play the best teams, to measure ourselves against those teams. We may be looking at Coach Indest and Catholic again down the road. It would be good to get there. We have big goals in mind.”
While Newman is, and always will be known for its superb academic culture, the culture of Greenie football is alive and well. While the next step is a steep one, Newman is capable of taking it. Based on accomplishment and ability, that step no longer looks to be a quantum leap.
“We preach to do your job,” Stewart said. “That is what our coaches and our kids have done thus far. You always want to be part of the conversation. I’d like to think we’re part of the title game conversation this year. We have played a tough schedule, including on the road. We’re battle tested. You have to be able to play great defense, manufacture a run game and avoid turnovers. Our line play is better. We want to win in all three phases. We’re a much better football team than we’ve been.”
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