Saturday was Senior Day at Newark High, and this year’s graduating class will always be able to say that they won their last game on Butch Simpson Field.
However, it didn’t look like that would be the case with under two minutes to play.
Late in the fourth quarter, Newark’s Darren Tyson was stripped of the ball just shy of the end zone at the end of a catch-and-run, turning the ball over to McKean with 1:28 left to play. Newark was out of timeouts and head coach Joey Russell admitted that “things looked pretty bleak.”
In theory, all McKean had to do was take three knees and run out the clock. Unfortunately for the Highlanders, their quarterback took his first knee in the end zone, resulting in a safety to pull Newark within 17-15. Newark ran the ensuing kickoff back to the McKean 30 yard line and three plays later, Mele Stallings scampered into the end zone for the game winning score with 22 seconds to play.
“I told the team after the win that this was something that the seniors will remember forever,” Russell said of his team’s 22-17 victory. “It was encouraging to see them show the resilience to come back.”
As it has much of the season, Newark trailed at the half, 10-6.
“At halftime, the message was to keep fighting and keep their heads up,” Russell said. “There were a lot of penalties in the first half on both teams. We needed to stop shooting ourselves in the foot.”
Sophomore Keion Kelson scored his second touchdown of the day in the third quarter to put Newark on top, 13-10. McKean then scored on a 62-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter to give the lead back to the Highlanders.
“Our defense had stopped them all day aside from the long pass in the fourth that put McKean on top,” Russell said.
It was then Newark’s next drive that resulted in the turnover near the goal line, setting off a collective sigh of disappointment from the home crowd before the miraculous finish took place.
“These [types of games] were ones that our program had been on the wrong side of the last couple of years,” Russell said. “I told them I was proud of the effort and poise that they showed at the end of the game.”
Newark has now put together two straight wins, something it hasn’t done since the 2016 season, and if the Yellowjackets are able to secure a third, they will finish with a .500 record for the first time since 2015.
“I feel as a whole the guys have bought in and didn’t get discouraged when we were 2-5,” Russell said. “They have kept fighting and clawing trying to get back to a .500 record.”
While the entire team has improved as a whole, Russell feels it’s been the running game that has made the difference in the late-season wins.
“I feel like the offensive line looks like we thought they would look at the beginning of the season, giving us a solid run game to hang our hat on,” he said.
Captains say …
“We continued to play hard throughout the game,” Alex Aviles said. “We made mistakes but were able to take advantage of the opportunities they gave us. Now we’re looking to win the next game and go into next season with momentum for the young guys and for the future.”
“It was a great win for us,” Jason Mitchell-Dickerson said. “It was our senior game, and it meant a lot to come out victorious that day. We knew they weren’t going to hand it to us, we knew we had to take it. We’re looking forward to working hard this week and preparing to beat Christiana to finish out our season. Finishing .500 would mean a lot to the program.”
Newark travels on Saturday to district rival Christiana High for a 10 a.m. kickoff.
Christiana’s lone win was a 45-0 triumph over a winless Dickinson team and the Vikings are coming off a 34-0 loss to Delcastle. Despite having just one win this season, Russell pointed to Christiana’s narrow 14-6 loss on Sept. 13 to A.I. du Pont – the Tigers are 7-2 heading into the final week of the season – as an indication of what the Vikings are capable of when they play well.
“They are capable of playing good football,” he said. “Hopefully we can finish off a strong three-game stretch and put a stamp on a season that will hopefully propel us into the future on a high note.”
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.