The Newton High School football team begins its second season at 7 p.m. Friday at Welsch Stadium in Emporia, as the Railers face the Emporia Spartans.
Both teams are 3-3 entering the game. Newton is coming off a 40-13 loss to Salina South last week, while Emporia fell to Topeka High 21-17. The game is the opening district contest for both teams and the final road game of the regular season for the Railers.
"Our players know this is an important game," Newton coach Nate Wollenberg said. "They are going to go into district against a very good team. It's the time of year where you want to be playing your best."
This will be Emporia's first game outside the Centennial League, where the team is tied for fifth. The team's losses came against league co-leader Manhattan (6-3), Topeka Hayden (36-19) and co-leader Topeka. The wins came against Shawnee Heights (44-0), Highland Park (60-13) and Topeka Seaman (21-17).
"They've played a lot of close games," Wollenberg said. "The Centennial League is very tough. They played Manhattan very close and they had one come down to the wire last week."
Wollenberg expects the Spartans to line up in a flex-bone on offense and a 4-4 defense.
"Their offense is very balanced," Wollenberg said. "They have several guys who carry the ball. They have a number of guys with catches. For our defense, there is no one individual you can concentrate on. You have to play very solid defense. They have a very strong offensive line. On defense, they are very solid with what they do."
Wollenberg is looking for the Railers to shore up its execution in all phases of the game. Special teams proved problematic for the Railers against Salina South, which blocked two punts. Newton also had a failed fake punt and a low punt snap, where the punter's knee hit the ground trying to field the ball.
"For the past two weeks, we've had mental errors that have hurt us," Wollenberg said. "We need to get that focus back. We have people not taking care of their assignments. We need to start eliminating those mistakes. There are a lot of areas we need to get better at. If you focus on one are for too much time, you may find yourself struggling in another phase."
For the Railers heading into this week, Jack Kingsley has 543 yards passing, followed by Braedon Morrison with 406. Morrison stayed on defense for most of last week's game. Morrison has 440 yards rushing, followed by Seth Hill with 408, Bradley Million with 375 and Kingsley with 316. Cory Martens has 223 receiving yards.
Both Hill and Million returned to the lineup last week after missing action due to injuries.
"Having Seth and Bradley back last week really helped us," Wollenberg said. "They have different strengths, but they are both doing a very good job for us."
The other teams in Newton's district are 6-0 Andover and 0-5 Valley Center. Wollenberg is making no predictions about the district race.
"Andover has a terrific record," he said. "They have come a long way. Valley Center has a new coach, but has been making progress. Emporia has played well against some very good teams. It's hard to pick an odds-on favorite.
"Our players are going to have to play with a lot of focus and with a minimum of mistakes. When we do make a mistake, which will happen, we have to work hard to over come it and put it behind us."