Issaquah focused on ground game as unbeaten Newport rolls in | Prep football preview

Issaquah will need an improved defensive performance this week against unbeaten Newport to avoid falling in to a 1-3 hole to start the season.

The past two weeks have been anything but comforting for the Issaquah football team or its head coach Chris Bennett.

After thrashing Interlake 44-3 in the season-opener, the Eagles fell victim to a four-turnover performance in a near miss against Mount Si. That game, despite ending in a loss, inspired confidence for a defense that allowed just more than 100 yards rushing, a respectable total against a Class 3A contender. But last week against O’Dea, another physical team determined to run the football, the defense had a far less memorable performance in a 51-26 loss to the Irish.

“We just really couldn’t tackle their backs,” Bennett said during his team’s practice on Tuesday in preparation for Newport. “We’re going to give O’Dea some credit, they are pretty good. But when we put on the film, three-fourths of the time we had them stopped at the point of attack.”

The scheme against the Irish was solid, keeping Issaquah within reach despite tackling mishaps that eventually resulted in a pair of 50-plus yard touchdown runs. But Bennett emphasized a repeat performance this week against the Knights will likely result in another lopsided loss.

“Obviously, Newport is looking at that film,” he said. “We have to tackle and that is going to be an emphasis this week.”

While the Knights may not have a top-end speedster at running back like O’Dea does in Myles Gaskin, coach Mike Miller’s squad has a trio of ball carriers who have been successful early in 2013, along with a junior quarterback just finding his rhythm in JP Routen.

Predictably, senior workhorse Conner Baumann has set the tone, running for 335 yards and three scores at more than 10 yards per carry thus far. Juniors Paul Wells and Nkumbu Chisebuka have a combined nine rushing scores and each is averaging nearly 12 yards per carry on the season to bouey the effort of their backfield mate and Miller said Routen has also been able to break loose Newport’s diverse run game.

Miller said he and his staff knew opposing defenses would come out focused on Baumann, one of the few returning playmakers for Newport from 2012 and Bennett confirmed his team would be doing exactly that when the lights come on Friday.

“It presents a lot of same challenges and a few different ones,” Bennett said of the Knights’ ground attack. “They are going to come here and run the football. We know that, they know that, and we have to be ready to stop it or we’re in for a long night.”