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Injuries, mistakes doom Newton in 20-6 loss to Valley Center
Dai'Mont Mucker rushed for 142 yards and scored twice for the Hornets.
VALLEY CENTER — Sometimes, it isn’t the sheer number of miscues that shape the momentum of a game. Instead, it’s when those miscues happen. Such was the case on Friday night for Newton when it faced Valley Center in a non-league season opener for both teams.
Hornets 20, Railers 6.
“We had some opportunities in the first half,” Newton head coach Greg Slade said. “And we didn’t take care of them. We’ve gotta be able to move the ball. We had a couple of good drives going and we just shot ourselves in the foot. We just got outplayed, I thought.”
Valley Center got things started with a bang early as Dai’Mont Mucker returned the opening kickoff to the house to put the Hornets up, 7-0, just 12 seconds into the game. Newton responded with a 14-play drive, but one that resulted in no points after a failed fourth-down conversion attempt deep in Valley Center territory.
Mucker — who finished the night with 142 yards on 18 carries — took advantage of the Railer miscue, running 39 yards to paydirt five plays later. Titan Claussen returned the favor with a huge kickoff return to the Hornet five-yard line and quarterback Colby Gomez punched it in from four yards out to get Newton on the scoreboard, trailing 14-6.
The key play you likely forgot: After a three-and-out for Valley Center on the ensuing drive, Newton powered its way to the Hornet 25-yard line before a wild snap went over the head of Gomez for a loss of 17, derailing the possession that could’ve tied the contest before the senior tossed an interception on the next snap.
It was an untimely miscue that haunted the Railers countless times before.
Newton’s defense was able to hold Valley Center out of the end zone, the Hornets instead settling for a field goal to take a two-possession 17-6 advantage at halftime. From there, the two teams played to a near-stalemate with the only three points in the second half being a Valley Center field goal.
The turning point: In the third quarter, it seemed as though the Railers would finally close the gap on the Hornets after forcing and recovering a fumble, but running back James Hulse fumbled himself on a six-yard run on fourth-and-2 in Valley Center territory.
Another untimely miscue, this one deflating any real hope of a comeback. However, Slade acknowledged the undeniably positive takeaway from the final 24 minutes: his defense played lights out.
“[Our] defense played great,” he said. “You know, they had a great special teams play and we had a great special teams play. We’ve gotta be ready and we didn’t take care of our opportunities in the first half.”
Newton’s greatest concern moving forward is injuries and finding replacements. Safety Niko Ramos was slow to get up on three separate occasions. Gomez was kept out of the game for the last offensive possession after taking a hard hit that required a lengthy checkup from trainers. A Railers player was in crutches on the sideline the entire second half.
On top of all that is the loss of wide receiver Dellen Claassen, who suffered an injury earlier in the week that kept him out of Friday’s matchup. This left a sizeable hole at the position — and presumably impacted the play-calling confidence in Newton’s aerial attack.
“We’ll evaluate that this weekend,” Slade said when asked about his roster’s injuries. “We’ll see how we are come Monday morning.”
Hulse led the Railers in rushing with 38 yards on seven attempts. Gomez had 39 yards and an interception on nine passes. CJ Buffalo recorded 20 receiving yards on a pair of catches.
Full offensive statistics:
Looking ahead: Newton will be back on the road next week with a trip to Gowans Stadium for a rivalry showdown with Hutchinson. The Salthawks lost to Goddard Eisenhower, 7-3, on Friday. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. on Sep. 8.