There’s only one worst-case scenario that can happen to the team kicking off to start a football game. Unfortunately, it happened to Newark on Saturday morning.
Mount Pleasant’s James Collins returned the opening kickoff 85 yards for a touchdown, and with the addition of a successful extra point, it meant Newark was trailing 7-0 at an earlier hour than most of the players normally eat lunch on any given Saturday.
After Mount’s ensuing kickoff, Newark captain Mele Stallings gathered his offense in a huddle and made his message very clear.
“I let them know that, ‘We can get it right back, so keep your heads up and let’s go,’” Stallings recalled.
The captain put his money where his mouth was, driving Newark almost the length of the field for a score. Newly inserted tailback Brihiem Kelson had several key runs during the opening drive before Stallings connected with Kamau Lately on a 36-yard touchdown pass to put Newark on the board for the first time this season.
“It was a relief that we put points on the board and that my teammates didn’t put their heads down,” Stalling said of his reaction right after the score.
Second quarter struggles
A four-plus minute stretch in the second quarter would prove to be the difference in the loss. and Collins once again was the player responsible for the points. The speedy senior scored three more times in the second quarter, the first two on pass receptions of 77 and 66 yards. Collins made another catch for a score, this time on the defensive side of the ball with a 40-yard interception return for a touchdown. Collins finished the game with 253 all-purpose yards and four touchdowns.
“Collins had a pretty solid game against us and our defense,” senior captain Jason Mitchell-Dickerson said. “He had tons of speed and elusiveness. I felt like we were doing a great job against him until he got heated up and after that it became difficult to hold him.”
Offensive struggles continue
Newark has scored just eight points in eight quarters. But as head coach Jody Russell pointed out, it’s not that his team can’t move the ball, it’s the fact that once they do, the referees often step off yards in the other direction after the play.
“Offensively, we shot ourselves in the foot with costly penalties that killed drives,” Russell said. “We put up over 300 yards of offense, just didn’t put up points.”
Senior lineman and captain Alex Aviles is happy with the offensive line’s improvement from week one, which definitely contributed to those 300-plus yards.
“I feel like we improved a lot from our first game,” Aviles said. “We made a few adjustments and challenged each other to perform better as a group. We have the size and talent to be special as a unit, and I feel like we had a few guys step up. Now, we just have to continue to improve so we can translate it into wins.”
Playing up a division
After spending the last two years in Division 2, Mount Pleasant’s increased enrollment pushed them back up to Division 1. Even with Newark’s move to Division 2 this year, Russell felt good about his team’s chances.
“I definitely thought that we would compete with Mount,” he said. “We just need to do the little things to win games. We need to be more disciplined on both sides of the ball.”
Mele Stallings completed 17 of 35 passes for 183 yards. Kelson, a sophomore, proved to the coaches that they made the right move switching him to tailback, finishing with 86 yards on 13 carries.
Practice, practice, practice
As they will for five more games this season, the Yellowjackets have the extra day of practice this week since the Lake Forest game is a Saturday kickoff at 10:30 a.m.
“We need to continue to work on tackling and the fundamentals,” Russell stressed about this week’s focus at practice. “We need this week of practice to work on the details that are needed to win a football game.”
It doesn’t get any easier for Newark when Lake Forest travels north on Saturday to face the Yellowjackets. The Spartans are 2-0 heading into Week 3 and are coming off lopsided victories against Polytech and Tatnall, outscoring the two by a combined 90-14.
“Lake Forest runs an option offense,” Russell pointed out. “So defensively, we are going to have to play assignment football to stop a very powerful run game. All of their skill guys are good and can score on any play.”
The Buzz from the Hive will be posted online each Monday morning during the high school football season and also in Friday’s print edition. It will include some game analysis and exclusive quotes from Newark High football coach Jody Russell and select members of the team after they've had a chance to watch game film, evaluate their performance, and begin preparation for the next game.