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LITHIA — There was little to suggest Newsome would survive another trip to Durant.
A month after suffering a 10-point loss on the same field, Newsome was tasked with trying to reverse that outcome in the playoffs against the only remaining undefeated team in Hillsborough.
Four quarters later, Ron Frost Stadium had fallen silent and the Wolves had done the improbable. Even the guy who scored the winning touchdown last week could hardly believe it.
“That was the most amazing feeling that I’ve ever felt,” said Clint Carnell, who rushed for a team-high 109 yards in the 21-14 victory. “It was the biggest game that I’ve ever played in. It was just crazy.”
Carnell and the Wolves will face similar odds in another road game Friday, when they take on state-ranked Kissimmee Osceola (12-0) in their Class 7A region final.
A decided underdog since advancing to the postseason, Newsome (8-4) bears little resemblance to a typical region finalist:
• The Wolves boast no major college recruits. Their best player, two-way star and four-year starter Will Worth, has no scholarship offers even after leading the team in rushing (1,421 yards), passing (950), scoring (18 touchdowns) and tackles (96).
• Only six of the state’s remaining 48 playoff teams have as many as the Wolves’ four losses. Newsome is one of three that didn’t win its district championship.
• Prior to this season, Newsome had won only one playoff game in the program’s 10-year history — a 49-20 victory over Alonso in 2010.
Relative to their postseason peers, the Wolves don’t have the size or speed or athleticism or pedigree or tradition typical of most teams who advance this far in the playoffs.
“Newsome hasn’t necessarily had a lot of those top Division I recruits,” said Jacques Braggs, a senior defensive lineman who has drawn some interest from Ball State. “We just try to use what we have to our advantage.”
Using kids from the Fish Hawk community, a cow pasture turned into a booming far western Hillsborough suburb in the 1990s, coach Kenneth Hiscock has implemented a Wing-T offense to narrow the gap with more talented foes.
Hiscock, a former linebacker at Durant High and Methodist College in North Carolina, brought the offense to Newsome in 2006 after spending several years as an assistant at Durant.
He counted on the Wing-T causing opposing defenses the same problems it caused him during his playing days.
“There’s a lot of misdirection, you have to be locked in on the keys and understand what you’re supposed to do and then you better run,” Hiscock said. “I like it. It’s simple, you can run a lot of formations and we’ve been fortunate to find guys here who know it and understand it.”
No one has run Hiscock’s offense better than Worth, who has guided the Wolves to 33 points and 366 yards of offense per game.
But the senior quarterback gets plenty of help from his mobile offensive line and a deep stable of running backs like Carnell, a senior who has totaled more than 1,000 yards and 12 touchdowns.
“We don’t have that big-name special athlete,” Carnell said. “We all have our role within the team.”
Despite that lack of star power, Newsome managed to rally from an 0-3 start against a grueling slate of non-district opponents — Tampa Bay Tech, Jefferson and Hillsborough.
By the time the Wolves suffered four turnovers in a 38-28 loss — their fourth of the year — to Durant on Oct. 18, they realized they were still good enough to salvage the season.
“We were a little discouraged,” Braggs said. “It was hard for us to stay focused and get in that mind-set that we could still make it. But we will be able to overcome it.”
Since that loss at Durant, Newsome has won its past five games — two in the playoffs — by a combined score of 196-41. They totaled 431 yards, including 317 rushing, and committed two fewer turnovers in the rematch against the similarly ground-bound Cougars.
But the Wolves will find themselves across the field from another ranked team with a spotless record Friday.
Kissimmee Osceola has outscored opponents 463-95 and is led by senior tailback Stafon McCray, a top college recruit who has rushed for 1,545 yards and 20 touchdowns.
The Kowboys, who knocked Newsome out of the playoffs in 2008, run virtually the same offense and they’ve run it to more success.
That all sounds familiar back in Fish Hawk.
“We’re always the underdog,” Carnell said. “Everyone counts us out. And we don’t mind that.”
Joel Anderson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @jdhometeam.