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RGR | Newton miscues loom large in 21-17 defeat to Valley Center: Recap and analysis
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NEWTON, Kan. — It was a 12-play, 7-minute drive that included two fourth-down conversions for Valley Center (1-0) that iced its 21-17 road victory over Newton (0-1). For the Hornets, the victory was their fourth straight in the series with the Railers. For the home squad, it marks the fourth straight week 1 loss.
“It took us a little too long to get started offensively,” first-year Newton head coach Greg Slade said. “We’ve gotta get started from the beginning [of the game].”
The Railers entered the game as 14-point favorites. It quickly became apparent, though, that neither team would be creating much separation throughout the evening.
Valley Center opened the scoring on the first play of the 2nd quarter when quarterback Henry Welu hooked up with Samuel Eldridge for a 60-yard touchdown pass. Just eight minutes later, the Newton defense got their team on the board with a 30-yard pick-six by James Hulse.
Then, with only 16 seconds left in the first half, the Hornets ripped the momentum from the Railers with a 44-yard touchdown pass from Welu to Dai’Mont Mucker. Heading into the break, Newton suddenly found themselves trailing again, 14-7.
“Can't win many games when that happens,” Slade said of the Railer defense outscoring the offense. “Our effort was great and the kids played hard. We made a few mistakes. We’ve got to clean some things up offensively. And we can't give up big plays on defense.”
Newton scored first in the second half with a safety on a Valley Center punt miscue. After trading possessions, the Railers later captured their first lead of the night with 11:07 left in the fourth quarter on a 7-yard keeper by quarterback Colby Gomez.
On the ensuing 58-yard Hornet drive, however, Mucker took it in from 19 yards out for his second scoring play and 16th touch overall of the game with 8:37 left in the game. Neither team would find points the rest of the way as Valley Center took home a 21-17 win.
Miscues were the thorn in Newton’s side in a largely winnable game.
The key play you likely forgot:
With 3:50 left in the second quarter and trailing 7-0, a fourth-down pass from Gomez to Camden Carr at the Valley Center 35-yard line fell just out of the wide receiver’s reach and gave possession back to the Hornets. Newton scored on a pick-six just a few plays later, but for a Railer offense that was struggling to simply pick up first downs, a touchdown there would’ve likely jump-started a lifeless unit.
The turning points:
Mucker’s touchdown for Valley Center just before the half took advantage of what continued to be a poor trend for the Newton secondary: being caught out of position deep outside the hashes. This one proved monumental as any momentum the Railers had prior to the second half was gone in an instant.
On another Gomez-to-Carr miscue, Carr fumbled a strike from Gomez just a few steps after completing the catch while en route to the end zone for what would’ve been a crucial touchdown late in the 3rd quarter. Newton would go on to reach paydirt just once afterward and lose by four.
On the final drive for the Railers midway through the fourth quarter, Gomez gambled on a deep post down the middle of the field and was intercepted. Newton would never get the ball back as the Hornets converted two fourth downs to run out the final seven minutes of the contest.
Gomez recorded eight straight completions — including three for 19, 25, and 29 yards — at one point in the second half en route to a 68-percent completion rate. Aside from the late interception, if the junior continues to play as he did in the final 24 minutes moving forward, the Railer offense will continue to make encouraging strides.
Isaac Klug emerged as Gomez’s go-to target, hauling in seven balls for 47 yards to lead Newton in receiving. Six different pass-catchers recorded catches, illustrating a play-calling and rotation tendency to sufficiently distribute the ball that will surely pay dividends as the personnel settles into the new scheme.
The areas of concern:
The two running backs for the Railers, James Hulse and CJ Claussen, combined for just seven yards on 10 attempts. To put it bluntly, it’s hard to win high school football games with this level of production from that position. Newton needs answers to its run game problem — and quickly.
The third- and fourth-down defense for the Railers ended up being a thorn in the side of Slade’s group. While excellent in the first half, it felt as though the unit simply couldn’t get off the field when it needed to when it mattered the most. Valley Center’s final drive encapsulates this evaluation.
The secondary’s tendency of allowing opponent pass-catchers deep outside the hashes (as previously mentioned) will devastate Newton in league play. The middle of the field seemed tightly covered, but the likes of Maize and Derby will use their speed on the outside freely if this issue isn’t addressed.
Full offensive stats:
To see the full offensive stats from this game, click/tap the button below.
The Railers will be back in action next Friday when they host Hutchinson to open Ark Valley-Chisholm Trail League Division 1 play. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. at Fischer Field Stadium. The Salthawks defeated Newton last season, 28-10.