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RGR | Gomez shines, but Newton falls in week 1 duel with Andover Central: Recap, notes, and takeaways
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ANDOVER, Kan. — It was, to the surprise of many, a defensive battle at Jaguar Stadium on Friday night. A battle that Newton found itself on the wrong side of.
After the Railers grabbed an early 6-0 lead in the first quarter, it was Andover Central that controlled the game and its tempo the rest of the evening, capturing a 10-6 victory. Jaguars running back Ashton Barkdull, who was noted as a player to watch, was the only member of either squad to find the end zone. He’d go on to finish with 133 yards on 17 carries.
Newton found itself with opportunities to hit pay dirt throughout the night, including two plays from inside the five yard line that would’ve handed the Railers the lead late in the fourth quarter. This was the final blow:
It was a problem that plagued Newton throughout the night: the inability to finish drives. It’s also part of an overarching theme of ‘finishing’ that was a point of emphasis that head coach Chris Jaax stressed to me in our conversation last week: “It’s something we’ve gotta do this year. We have to finish games.”
Jaax told Mark Schnabel of The Kansan after the game: “The kids played hard. … I was proud of them. … There are a lot of things we can improve on. There are things we can build on. The bottom line is we have to score. We got on the two yard line and didn’t score.”
Despite the loss, Jaax is absolutely correct in his evaluation: there’s plenty of potential on the Railers’ roster. Here are just a few of the positives from week 1 action that Newton can certainly win with:
The defense showed up — and in a big way
Going into Friday night’s game, it was no secret that all eyes would be on the Railers’ defense. After giving up 41 points to this same Andover Central team a year ago, this season’s group only allowed 10.
From an experienced secondary that was airtight seemingly all night to a young front seven that won consistently in the trenches, all systems were a go with this unit from the first snap. The performance can be summarized into one word: dominant.
What made it even sweeter is the situations in which Newton made such critical stops to keep itself in the game. The most notable instance came midway through the third quarter when, as Jaax recalled in his postgame comments to The Kansan, “We had a turnover at the ten yard line. The defense came out and held them to a field goal.”
Defensive performances such as these will be crucial for the Railers to have success in AVCTL Division 1 play this season. It’s a safe bet to assume the offense will work itself out eventually — it’ll be up to the defense to continue this level of play and put it all together.
Newton’s in good hands with Colby Gomez
Arguably the biggest unknown ahead of kickoff on Friday night was the level of quarterback play the Railers would be working with in 2021. Sophomore Colby Gomez got the start, beating out fellow sophomore Dellen Claassen and junior Jayden Nash.
Gomez, who told The Kansan that he was “really nervous” for his first varsity start, showed poise in the pocket, decision-making, and accuracy that would lead one to believe he’s a seasoned veteran. Additionally, he was able to extend plays and give his receivers a chance to make something happen off-script.
His stat line reflected these traits, throwing 23 passes with only 6 incompletions for 166 yards. His favorite target was junior H-Back Ryan Ruggerio, who seemed to be the go-to guy for Newton when the offense was in a tough spot — recording 10 catches for 75 yards.
It’s clear Jaax and his staff made the right call at quarterback. Such as the defense’s situation, if Gomez can maintain or increase this production as he becomes more comfortable, Newton will (unlike Friday night) find the end zone… a lot.
Collin Hershberger to the rescue
One of the most overlooked aspects of high school football is the benefit of having a reliable kicker. The Railers’ Collin Hershberger is exactly that.
The junior soccer player — who was dubbed ‘insane’ by the Newton football Twitter account after nailing a 60-yard field goal in practice on video — went a perfect 2/2 on Friday night, scoring all of the Railers’ 6 points.
The first attempt was from 31 yards out, the second from a whopping 46. Both, however, were never in doubt from the moment his foot made contact with the ball.
While it might not seem important after one week of play, with how tight AVCTL Division 1 play is expected to be (as we saw last season), there shouldn’t be any doubt that Hershberger will potentially play a major role in the outcome of multiple games this season.
Looking ahead, Newton’s coaching staff will look to build on these upward trends that are forming on the team’s roster. The growth — which includes developing the ability to finish drives — will need to come fast though, as the Railers will head to Derby for a Friday night showdown with the Panthers. The game will be the newly-renovated Derby Panther Stadium’s first, and is the opening contest of AVCTL Division 1 play for both teams.
Newton lost last year’s matchup 43-31.
Brett is a freelance reporter covering the 2021 Newton (KS) High School football team and Carrollton-Farmers Branch ISD (TX) 5A high school football. To stay updated, subscribe by completing the field above. Follow Brett on Twitter (@brettaesch) for up-to-the-minute coverage. Thanks for reading.