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RGR | Newton set to host undefeated Maize in home opener: Storylines, preview, and projection
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For the 12th straight year, Newton will square off with Maize on the gridiron as part of Ark Valley-Chisholm Trail League Division 1 play — and this time around, the two teams head into Friday night’s matchup on very different paths.
The Railers are winless and fresh off a 33-point loss to Derby.
The Eagles are undefeated after a 29-10 victory over Campus a week ago.
Despite this starch difference in direction, there’s optimism in Newton circles that this game — which is the one before next week’s homecoming showdown with Hutchinson — could be the game in which the Railers reverse course and keep themselves in the mix for a playoff berth.
Here’s what you need to know ahead of this week’s pivotal contest — including game information, storylines to watch, and a final preview plus CalPreps projection.
Location: Fischer Field Stadium (Newton)
Kickoff: 7:00 p.m.
Weather: 80 degrees. Clear skies. 0% chance of rain.
Spread (via CalPreps): Maize (-18)
2020 result: Maize won, 34-27
Railers looking to end the streak
Maize hasn’t lost to Newton since the two schools began playing each other again twelve seasons ago — including a one-point overtime victory in 2014 and a 20-point victory in 2015 that served as the Eagles’ lone win of the season. The average margin of defeat in that span is 19 points.
A year ago, the Railers fell a touchdown short. It was one of the losses noted by head coach Chris Jaax in which his team had a chance at the end to steal the game, but simply couldn’t finish it out. We’ll see if his crew can make amends for last season’s shortcoming.
Secondary to be tested by one of the nation’s best
This season, Newton’s secondary has been one of the best in the AVCTL. It held Derby to a measly 46 yards passing while forcing two interceptions, and the group has clearly been the team’s biggest strength so far. Its impact simply can’t be overstated.
But this week, it’ll have arguably its toughest task of the year: defending 247Sports four-star quarterback Avery Johnson. As the top-ranked player in Kansas and no. 8 passer in the nation, the junior holds 18 offers — including ones from Auburn, Florida State, Notre Dame, and Ole Miss. He’s a true ‘dual-threat’, having rushed for a 97-yard touchdown in last week’s win over Campus to go along with his multiple touchdown passes.
The only downside of this for Maize? Its offense goes exactly where Johnson goes. Therefore, if the Railers’ secondary can force him to use his legs and contain the explosive plays through the air, Newton could find themselves going blow-for-blow with the Eagles. Maize hasn’t exactly lit up the scoreboard through the first two weeks of action, scoring 17 and 29 points respectively — so this matchup shouldn’t scare the Railers whatsoever.
A key stat to jumpstarting Newton’s offense
The point has become a recurring theme in discussions about the Railers’ offense — from the coaching staff to the media, it’s no secret that finishing drives and scoring touchdowns must be a point of emphasis on a weekly basis. And it feels as though the Railers are on the cusp of making this happen.
With a quarterback in Colby Gomez who is yet to throw an interception, turnovers haven’t been the kryptonite for this offense. In fact, from the naked eye, nobody truly knows what’s keeping the unit from getting in the end zone with consistency. However, if you turn on the film or check the drive chart, it’s evident what needs to improve: the team’s average starting field position.
This, ironically, isn’t necessarily an offensive problem. Instead, it’s up to Newton’s special teams units — specifically punt return and kickoff return — to assist the offense by putting it in positions to score. Far too often in the first two games, the Railers found themselves taking the field from its own 25 yard-line or worse.
And for a team like Newton, understanding that football is a simple game is crucial: getting the ball closer to the end zone makes getting in the end zone that much easier.
While on paper one might determine this game to be as lopsided as any other, there’s a sense that the Railers will make life difficult for the Eagles. It’ll be a tough, uphill battle for Newton, but these kind of matchups is what the team’s motto — ‘Swing The Hammer’ — is all about.
With the excitement of the first home game abound and a growing sense of urgency to turn things around, expect a revitalized Newton group to come out of the gate hot on Friday night.
However, if Johnson catches fire early and Maize starts to roll with momentum, the Railers’ energy might be sucked right out of the stadium before they have a chance to claw back into it. This game could truly, in my honest opinion, go a number of ways.
CalPreps Projection: Maize 31, Newton 13
I’ll be on-site for this game and providing live updates via Twitter until 8:50 p.m. — which is when I’ll have to depart due to my obligations as a Bethel College student-athlete. I’ll return to the stadium if possible.
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.