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SPOTLIGHT
Paths cross again for Melvin, Graber

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Paths cross again for Melvin, Graber

Published on -10/29/2012, 2:28 PM

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Norton Vs Phillipsburg FB

By CONOR NICHOLL

cnicholl@dailynews.net

Bruce Graber has served as a football coach for 38 years, including 22 as a head coach. After he was as an assistant coach in Missouri for 16 seasons, Graber served as a head coach at Hutchinson from 1990 to 94 and then had an 11-season stint at Norton. Graber went 88-23 with the Bluejays and had Lucas Melvin as an assistant.

Seven years ago, Graber resigned and went to El Dorado, where he served as head coach for four falls. Then in July 2010, Graber took over at Salina-Sacred Heart for Jim Wittman, a Quinter native, who resigned after nine years.

On Tuesday, Graber and Melvin's paths will cross again the first round of the Class 3A state playoffs. Sacred Heart (8-1) will play host to Norton (7-2).

"He is like a second dad to me," Melvin, who took over for Graber as Norton's coach, said. "He is a tremendous man, and a tremendous football coach, and just a great guy."

Like Graber, Melvin has continued the Bluejays' tradition. Melvin is 51-22 with Norton and led the program to a winner-take-all 20-7 road victory against Phillipsburg last Thursday. The win clinched the Mid-Continent League title for the Bluejays and ended the Panthers' season at 7-2.

"My uncle is the priest at Sacred Heart, so it will just be awesome to go down there and get a win," senior tailback Jacob Brooks said. "It will feel good."

Led by a big night from Brooks and an aggressive defense, the Bluejays returned to the postseason after a rare miss last fall. In 2010, Norton finished 3-6, the first losing season in 17 years and the first playoff miss since 1999.

"We are go-getters," Brooks said. "We go out there and we play a good game when we are aggressive. We always have to be aggressive, and if we are aggressive, then good things happen."

Brooks rushed 24 times for 208 yards and two scores on runs of 89 and 12 yards.

Known more for his speed and athleticism, Brooks ran powerfully and broke multiple tackles throughout the game. Often, three or more Panthers had to take him down.

"I thought he ran really tough," Phillipsburg coach J.B. Covington said. "A lot of our people that we were talking to said that he went down fairly easily. We have been pretty good tacklers here lately, and I thought he ran through a lot of our tackles and put a great effort into this ball game."

Last year, Brooks rushed for 364 yards and had 349 receiving yards. After an offseason of building strength, Brooks now has 167 carries for 964 yards and 10 rushing TDs, all-team-highs, and nine catches for 276 yards and four TDs.

"I ran mad," Brooks said. "That's how I did it. I put my head down. I wasn't going to be stopped."

Senior quarterback Dalton Miller, like most Norton quarterbacks under Melvin, has played efficiently. In his first season as a starter, Miller has completed 59 of 122 passes for 923 yards with an 11/3 TD/INT ratio. Last year, the Bluejays tossed 10 interceptions.

The defense, strong all season, has permitted just 17.6 points per contest. Other than 2011, Melvin's other teams have all permitted 13.7 and 17.6 points a game. Senior Lucas Engel has a team-high seven sacks and helped the Bluejays collect 14 tackles for loss versus Phillipsburg.

"They played like they have been all year," Melvin said. "They played hard. They stayed low and they go hard, and they are relentless."

Sacred Heart is 19-10 under Graber and has plenty of athletes, including junior quarterback Nick Wuthnow, speedy senior running back Drew Diederich and senior wideout Tony Chavez.

Wuthnow has completed 60 of 112 passes for 1,282 yards with a 16/2 TD/INT ratio and rushed 73 times for 552 yards. Diederich has a team-high 701 rushing yards and Chavez has 19 catches for 502 yards and eight scores, all team-bests.

Sacred Heart has three straight undefeated district seasons under Graber, but has lost in the first round of the playoffs the last two years. This will be the Knights' 15th playoff game since 2002, though the program has just one season ('06) where it advanced past the second round.

"It is now time for this group to advance in the playoffs, and not be satisfied with just being there," Graber wrote on his team's MaxPreps' page after last week's victory versus Lyons. "Should be a great one Tuesday night versus Norton."

In Week 8, Norton, despite only being outgained just 293-245, lost 56-9 to Beloit. It marked the worst loss of the Melvin era since a 60-0 defeat in Week 1 of the 2007 season to a record-breaking Smith Center squad.

Then Norton bounced back a week later for the big win against the Panthers - differences that Melvin credited to divine intervention and his team.

"I love these kids," he said. "They are tough. To come back from last week and play this hard, unbelievable ... (God) has worked a lot of miracles on our team this year, and I just praise him for that. Praise him for the opportunity that he gave us, and these guys stepped up and took advantage of it."

Now, Melvin and Norton earn their first opportunity against its former coach.

"We are pretty good friends," Melvin said. "It will be a special thing. I am just happy to be in the playoffs, and get to play a mentor of mine. It's exciting and hard at the same time."

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