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RGR | Newton, Maize set for first-round rematch: Storylines, preview, and projection
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When Newton takes the field on Friday night at K.T. Woodman Stadium, it’ll be facing an all-too-familiar opponent: Fellow Ark Valley-Chisholm Trail League Division 1 foe Maize. The Railers and Eagles met earlier this season, with the latter cruising to a victory in dominant fashion, 54-10.
Now with the ‘win-or-go-home’ factor in the mix, the stakes of this KSHSAA 5A-West first-round playoff rematch are a bit higher than those of that 44-point blowout on Sep. 17. With Maize’s eyes set on a run at the state championship, Newton will hope to play spoiler with an upset for the ages.
The 14th-seeded Railers are 2-6 and coming off a 31-10 loss to Haysville Campus. Meanwhile, the 3rd-seeded Eagles are 6-2. They defeated Hutchinson last week 42-14 to finish second in AVCTL-I behind undefeated 6A powerhouse Derby — a team they only fell short of by a single point.
Here’s what you need to know for this showdown — including game information, storylines to watch, and a final preview plus CalPreps projection.
Location: K.T. Woodman Stadium (Maize)
Kickoff: 7:00 p.m.
Weather: 50 degrees. Clear skies. 0% chance of rain.
Spread (via CalPreps): Maize (-36)
2021 result: Maize won, 54-10
At stake: Winner plays No. 5 Bishop Carroll (or) No. 12 Hutch
1: Containing Avery Johnson — if possible
It’s hard to talk about Maize without mentioning four-star and No. 8 dual-threat quarterback in the nation Avery Johnson. The 6-foot-2, 170-pound junior passer can beat defenses with his arm and legs, and racked up six touchdowns — three through the air and three on the ground — against Newton when the two teams met last month.
Key stat: Additionally, Johnson accounted for 369 total yards in said game. Asking the Railer defense to shut him down this time around is borderline comical. However, limiting his damage — whether by sending pressure or playing coverage — and forcing other offensive contributors to step up is within the realm of possibility, and might be the only way Newton remains competitive.
The Railers currently rank 29th in total defense and 23rd against the pass out of 32 qualifying 5A teams. Not only will it need an exceptional performance on Friday night to give itself a fighting chance, it’ll need its best outing yet. If the unit repeats the debacle that took place in last week’s loss to Campus, the Eagles won’t score 54 points. They’ll score more — a lot more.
2: Staying creative (and disciplined) on offense
When Newton recorded its first win of the season against Goddard, it did it in an unconventional way. As Mark Schnabel of The Kansan headlined his postgame story: “Railers use razzle-dazzle to get past Goddard”. It used a variety of trick plays offensively to keep drives alive and give itself a spark, including a 56-yard touchdown pass from junior wide receiver Camden Carr to sophomore running back James Hulse.
Key stat: The Railers had one of their most proficient offensive performances that night, finishing with 237 total yards. They reached back into their bag of tricks on numerous occasions the following week against Salina South — a game in which they also won. Facing a team like Maize, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to keep a few double-passes or reverses in the arsenal create momentum — something the Eagles will likely have most of the night.
Speaking of the Goddard game, another vital key to success for this unit will be ending ever possession with a kick — whether that’s an extra point, field goal, or punt. Turning the ball over is simply not an option. Giving Avery Johnson a short field, as Newton found out the hard way in September, will lead to a downhill spiral that it won’t be able to stop.
3: What awaits in round two?
The winner of this game will advance to the second round of the 5A-West playoffs and play the winner of No. 5 Bishop Carroll versus No. 12 Hutch. Newton lost to Hutch 28-10 in the regular season, while Maize defeated the Salthawks 42-14 last week. Neither squad played Bishop Carroll, which is part of the Greater Wichita Athletic League.
Key stat: If the Railers win, it would be their first time playing in November since 2013, when they lost 70-13 to… Bishop Carroll. For a team that has had less than ten seasons above .500 in school history, a second-round playoff appearance — though extremely unlikely — would be a monumental feat for the Newton High School football program.
Preview and projection
Maize is my pick for 5A state champion, and the team I cover just happened to be matched up with it for the first round of the postseason. It’ll take a near-miracle for Newton to come out on top, but that’s what makes football so special: Anything can happen, and you play to win the game.
A strong performance — even in a loss — would create a firm foundation for this young Railers team to build on going into 2022. Strong showings by quarterback Colby Gomez, the offensive and defensive lines, and running back James Hulse should inspire confidence in the Newton faithful that brighter days are indeed ahead.
CalPreps Projection: Maize 44, Newton 8
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.