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RGR | Newton uses complete performance to prevail over Salina South, 35-27: Recap and takeaways
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NEWTON, Kan. — Colby Gomez scored two touchdowns through the air and two more on the ground to lead Newton (2-5) to a 35-27 home victory over Ark Valley-Chisholm Trail Division 1 foe Salina South (1-6) at Fischer Field Stadium on Friday night. The sophomore quarterback completed 54-percent of his passes for 156 yards. He also tallied a lone interception.
It was the Cougars that got on the board first in the opening frame, as sophomore RB Ian Andalon hit paydirt from three yards out to cap off a 64-yard drive with just over five minutes left in the first quarter.
Salina South would carry that 7-0 lead into the second quarter and it would stick until the 7:30 mark, when the Railers evened it up with a touchdown run from Gomez on 4th-and-goal following an interception by junior LB Brody Harper which eventually set up a 41-yard double-pass from junior WR Camden Carr to sophomore RB James Hulse.
The Cougars then regained the lead on their ensuing drive when junior RB Seth Clemmer powered his way in from the three yard-line to make it 14-7 with just 2:39 left in the first half. Then, with 35 seconds left, Gomez found senior WR Jake Schmidt in the back of the end zone to tie at 14 at the half.
Coming out of the break, the Newton defense forced a three-and-out, which was immediately followed by the Railers’ lone turnover of the night: A deflected interception from Gomez. Salina South would capitalize on the rare mistake with a touchdown pass from junior QB Weston Fries to sophomore Kaden Budke to make it 20-14 with 7:12 remaining in the third quarter.
After a quick three-and-out on Newton’s next possession, senior DB Joe Slechta made the momentum-shifting play of the night: A 30-yard interception return for a touchdown. It gave the Railers a 21-20 lead with under five minutes left in the period — a lead in which they would never have to regain the rest of the way.
Following the Cougars’ second straight turnover to open its next drive, Newton made quick work of the short field and punched it in with a Gomez keeper to extends its lead to 28-20. Later, only 42 seconds into the fourth quarter, Gomez found Carr for a 17-yard score to make it 35-20. Salina South would pull back within eight a few minutes later with Clemmer’s second touchdown of the game, but the scoring ended there.
When the final whistle blew, Newton had captured its second win of 2021.
“The kids took advantage of opportunities,” Railers head coach Chris Jaax told Mark Schnabel of The Kansan after the game. “Coming out of the half, getting that interception and running it back … [the offense] did a great job of scoring in scoring positions.”
Now, the takeaways from the most complete outing from the Railers to date.
1. Defensive improvements continue as young front seven tightens up in 2nd half
Coming off its best performance as a unit a week ago in the win over Goddard, Newton’s defense was under a microscope against a much more formidable offense that presented something it had struggled to contend with for a majority of this season: Physicality both at the line of scrimmage and from the running back position.
Key stat: For the entire first half, it seemed as though Salina South’s Clemmer was going to have a career night against a Railers defensive front that was getting manhandled on every snap as he ripped off runs of 6, 9, 6, 6, and 11. Instead, the Newton defense reversed course and didn’t allow a single carry (while the game was still in reach) to net more than 4 yards. In fact, it forced three attempts of either zero or negative yards.
To perform the way it did for 24 minutes in a close, competitive setting is a testament to just how far this young Railers defensive unit — especially the front seven — has come. The secondary did its part too, rarely allowing downfield passing lanes (which is something it struggled with a week ago). Overall, this side of the ball impressed — and made life easy on its offense.
2. The Gomez-Carr connection is alive, well, and lethal
The past few weeks, Newton’s offensive success has seemed to be headlined by Gomez, its quarterback, and Carr, an emerging junior receiver. This has been taken to the most literal of meanings as of late, with Carr tallying over 40 passing yards on trick plays in each of the team’s wins this season.
Key stat: Gomez had arguably his most productive night as a football player this year on Friday, and Carr led the way on the receiving end of that — recording five catches for 58 yards and a touchdown. Many of those yards came after the catch, making tacklers miss in the open field and putting his offense in ideal positions to score points.
With a lower-body injury to sophomore WR Keon Edwards, the ever-elusive presence of a running game, and a quarterback who is being forced to throw on the move on seemingly every pass play, Carr’s emergence couldn’t have come at a better time — and it’ll need to continue as long as the Railers are still playing football.
1. Offensive line once again dominated at the line of scrimmage
This issue has become so reoccurring that it’s now evident to spectators that Newton’s offensive play-calling has systematically adapted to an unfortunate reality: The only way Gomez can be efficient in the passing game is by either moving the pocket or getting him out of it completely. Straight dropbacks are a thing of the past, as this unit has proven its inability to sustain protection.
Key stat: Gomez’s passing — without looking on paper — has to be in the running for one of the lowest yards-per-completion in AVCTL-I. And it isn’t his fault whatsoever. Instead, it’s the screens, quick slants, and speed-outs on first down, bootlegs and straight rollouts on second down, and RPOs on third down that have contributed to this. In fact, one of his 10-yard gains was a quick screen that junior WR Isaac Klug was able to turn upfield.
At this point in a season like this one, I’m not too confident in the offensive line’s ability to turn things around in a quick enough time frame for it to matter on a big-picture level. Instead, Newton will have to continue with its ‘get the ball in our playmakers’ hands ASAP’ blueprint to continue its success.
2. Will the Railers be able to run the ball in 2021?
Salina South was notably one of the worst run defenses in AVCTL-I going into Friday night’s game, and Newton was still unable to crack 100 yards on the ground. Now, the question becomes, who takes the blame for it? How much of it is on Hulse/Gomez, and how much is on the offensive line that I just explained is getting mauled at the point of attack?
Key Stat: I think the answer — from what we’ve seen thus far — is a majority of the blame should fall on the latter. Hulse finished with 48 yards on 15 carries, while Gomez tacked on 38 more in the same amount of attempts. Neither runner got consistent opportunities to reach the second level, and was typically contacted by more than one defender less than five yards downfield.
Like the offensive line problem, there’s really no way of knowing whether or not this will repair itself in time for it to matter. In a season that started rough but is slowly showing hope near the end, we’re starting to see just how much this offense (and team as a whole) is missing senior RB Kenyon Forest.
The Railers will cap off the regular season in a home showdown with Haysville Campus, which is currently alone in last place in the AVCTL-I standings with an 0-7 overall record. The Colts will be rolling into Fischer Field Stadium off the heels of a 28-17 loss to Hutchinson.
Newton won last year’s matchup 42-15.
N — C. Gomez: 14-26, 156 yds, 2 TD, INT
N — C. Carr: 1-1, 41 yds
SS — W. Fries: 17-33, 218 yds, TD, 2 INT
N — J. Hulse: 15 car, 48 yds
N — C. Gomez: 15 car, 38 yds, 2 TD
N — TEAM: 3 car, -14 yds
SS — S. Clemmer: 26 car, 100 yds, 2 TD
SS — I. Andalon: 7 car, 15 yds, TD
SS — K. Dietz: 1 car, 2 yds
N — C. Carr: 5 rec, 58 yds, TD
N — I. Klug: 2 rec, 47 yds
N — J. Hulse: 2 rec, 42 yds
N — R. Ruggerio: 3 rec, 30 yds
N — J. Schmidt: 3 rec, 20 yds, TD
SS — T. McDaniel: 7 rec, 89 yds
SS — C. Copes: 6 rec, 79 yds
SS — L. Webb: 2 rec, 36 yds
SS — G. Aills: 1 rec, 11 yds
SS — K. Budke: 1 rec, 3 yds, TD
N — 269 yds
SS — 335 yds
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.