Discover more from Brett Esch
RGR | Newton vs. Andover Central: Storylines, preview, and projection
NOTE: If you’d like to receive email notifications of new stories from only this section — as opposed to the entire publication — or if you’d like to stop receiving email notifications of new stories from this section, this can be managed (as a subscriber) by visiting the ‘My Account’ page on baesch.substack.com.
This week marks the first of the 2021 Kansas high school football season, and the Newton Railers will get it started by going on the road to face the Andover Central Jaguars. It’s the first matchup of an eight-game campaign that’ll serve as a tune-up ahead of Ark Valley Chisholm Trail League Division 1 play.
Here’s everything you need to know ahead of Friday night — including game information, storylines to watch, as well as a final preview and projection.
Location: Jaguar Stadium (Andover)
Kickoff: 6:00 p.m. (updated; change due to weather concerns)
Weather: 69 degrees. Scattered thunderstorms. 50% chance of rain.
Spread (via CalPreps): Newton (-3)
Newton and Andover Central have only faced each other once on the gridiron. The lone contest came in the season-opener a year ago, when the Jaguars made the trip north to defeat the Railers 41-34.
Central would go on to finish the 2020 season 7-2, including a playoff berth out of AVCTL Division 2 — where they lost to Arkansas City in the second round. Newton finished 2-7, losing to fellow AVCTL Division 1 foe Hutchinson in the first round of the playoffs.
Offensive fireworks certain
This time last year — when Newton and Central took the field — fans were treated to a high-scoring affair that was tight all the way to the final horn. With two programs that are notorious for lighting up the scoreboard, expect this season’s matchup to be no different.
The question for Newton, though, is finding out who will have the honor of commanding this high-powered offense. When I spoke with head coach Chris Jaax last week, he informed me that there was a three-man race for the starting job — which included junior Jayden Nash, sophomore Colby Gomez, and sophomore Dellen Claassen.
Whoever gets the start, at their disposal will be the unquestioned workhorse for this offense: running back Kenyon Forest. He returns after a 2020 season that saw him carry the ball 180 times for 855 yards and 9 touchdowns. He’ll serve as a source of balance in a pass-heavy Newton offensive attack. Senior wide receiver Jake Schmidt will also be worth keeping an eye on.
For Central, there’ll be a new signal caller under center as well. However, like Newton, the team returns a senior running back in Ashton Barkdull, who amassed 673 yards and 5 touchdowns on only 96 carries in 2020. With the workload now being placed on him — as opposed to splitting carries with another rusher as he did a year ago — expect Barkdull to be a focal point of the Jaguars offense right away, starting on Friday.
At wide receiver, Central graduated three of them this past school year. It’ll be a relatively inexperienced offense that takes the field, but don’t expect a shortage of explosive plays.
Defense to be tested early
The woes that have plagued the defensive side of the ball for Newton are no strangers to Railers fans. Since 2018, the unit has given up 40 or more points a whopping 13 times. It’ll be put to the test once again in the early stages of the 2021 campaign against a potent Central offense.
Helping in the attempt to rid the team of that unfortunate history starting this week is senior defensive back and SixStar Football Kansas 4-star Luke Hirsh. He’ll be joined by fellow defensive backs Andrew Barron (Sr.) and Ben Reyes (Sr.) in leading the defense, as Jaax noted in our conversation last week. Expect Reyes to take on a primary role on Friday night.
Elsewhere on defense, Newton is relatively young. It’ll be a sophomore- and junior-heavy unit that’ll need to learn the ropes and make plays quickly. If the Railers want to start 1-0 — and gain momentum heading into week 2’s matchup with Derby — it’ll need a stellar performance from this side of the ball.
All things considered, there’s really no way to be certain how this week 1 matchup will play out. However, given how last season’s game went, I wouldn’t bet on either Newton nor Central running away with it. People I’ve talked to with extensive knowledge of Kansas high school football are all over the spectrum on potential final scores, and I can easily say that this is one of the toughest games I’ve ever had to project.
While Newton enters as 3-point favorites according to CalPreps, Central just happens to be a more experienced, more well-rounded group that looks poised to return to where it was in 2019 — when it finished 11-2.
I fully expect the Railers to hang around and give the Jaguars all they can handle, but the defensive unit will make-or-break this game. With that in mind, Central will do just enough to get past this young Newton squad.
Final: Andover Central 36, Newton 28
If you can’t make it to Jaguar Stadium on Friday night, I’ll be on the sidelines providing game updates via Twitter. A postgame recap will follow as well.
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.