By Kelly Breckunitch
VALLEY CENTER—Fighting to keep its season alive, the Newton football team controlled Friday's playoff game at Valley Center for most of the first half. In a matter of minutes, though, the tide turned in the Hornets' favor and the home team was able to hold on for a 28-20 victory to advance in the Class 5A playoffs.
After trading a pair of long drives that ended just short of the end zone (and took up most of the first quarter), the Railers struck first in the war of attrition as quarterback Landon Moore connected with receiver Nathan Ahrens for a 59-yard touchdown through the air halfway through the second quarter.
With a 7-0 lead and locked in another tight battle, the Railers fought to maintain the upper hand, but Valley Center tied the game just before halftime. Hornet quarterback Josh Roeser plunged in from one yard out with one second left in the second quarter and Valley Center converted the extra point to draw even.
Things become uneven again quickly into the third quarter, though, this time with Valley Center taking advantage of some Newton miscues.
On the Railers' opening drive of the second half, a sack and fumble recovery gave the Hornets the ball deep in Newton territory. Roeser then proceeded to connect with Kaden Lewis for a seven-yard touchdown that gave Valley Center a 14-7 lead four minutes into the third quarter. Adding a 13-yard touchdown run from Dan Boone six minutes later, it was clear the third quarter belonged to the Hornets.
"I think they just did a good job coming out of the half and we just took a little bit longer making some adjustments coming out of the half," said Newton head coach Chris Jaax. "Offensively we struggled to move the ball in the third quarter and that always puts our defense in a tough spot. Hats off to them, they did a good job coming out of halftime."
Momentum started to swing back in favor of Newton late in the fourth quarter, though, following a couple of key defensive stops. Kade Remsberg then ripped off a 30-yard touchdown run with 3:39 remaining to make it a one possession game.
Following that, the defense forced a fumble and Moore made the Hornets pay with a 35-yard touchdown run on the very first play after the turnover, but the extra point was blocked and the Railers were still looking up at a deficit, albeit a slim 21-20 disadvantage.
Defensively, Newton had a chance to get the ball back, but ended up having to give up a touchdown to get one final shot at forcing overtime.
Trailing 28-20, the Railers got to the Valley Center 37-yard line and looked to catch a break on a fourth down attempt with a flag on the defense, but the penalty was called after the play and enforced following a turnover on downs that allowed the Hornets to run out the clock and secure the victory.
While an improvement over the team's last meeting with Valley Center, the Railers fell just short of the upset in the rematch as they were ultimately unable to overcome some lapses in the third quarter.
"The biggest thing is we just didn't come out at halftime and make the offensive plays we needed to and defensively just gave up a couple big plays," Jaax said.
Seniors helped lay the foundation for the Railers this season and while Newton finishes the year 1-8, Jaax believed his team gave its all in its final game.
"I'm just proud of the kids," Jaax said. "They came out and they fought. They really believed in their hearts that they were gonna win this game."
Newton 0 7 0 13 — 20
Valley Center 0 7 14 7 —28
2q. N Ahrens 59-yard pass from Moore (Cornejo kick) 6:18
2q. V Roeser 1-yard run (Coash kick) :01
3q. V Lewis 7-yard pass from Roeser (Coash kick) 7:41
3q. V Boone 13-yard run (Coash kick) 1:48
4q. N Remsberg 30-yard run (Cornejo kick) 3:39
4q. N Moore 35-yard run (Kick blocked) 3:31
4q. V Boone 9-yard run (Coash kick) :55
RUSHING — Newton: Remsberg 25-125, Moore 13-76. Valley Center: Roeser 23-152, Boone 13-92, Rains 11-75, Navarrete 2-13.
PASSING — Newton: Moore 6-14-94. Valley Center: Roeser 6-13 147
RECEIVING — Newton: Lawrence 3-11, Ahrens 2-70, Schrag 1-13. Valley Center: Terwilliger 2-96, Lewis 2-11, Brown 1-34, Saunders 1-6.