Newton coach Chris Jaax couldn’t have been more proud of the Railer defense Friday night against Salina South at Salina Stadium.
After giving up a 26-yard touchdown on fourth down and 21 with 1:28 to play, the Railers stopped South short of the goal line on a two-point conversion to hang on, 42-41, for their first win of the season.
"That was a tough drive," Jaax said. "They kept finding ways to convert on fourth and long, and then for our defense to come up big on that two-point conversion was huge.
"The kids found a way. We were in a really bad spot in the first quarter. Lots of mistakes, so I’m really proud of how they hung in there and fought. Hats off to Salina South, they played a great game. That was a fun game."
South (1-5 overall, 1-4 Ark Valley Chisholm Trail League I) was haunted by seven turnovers that kept the Railers in the contest. Three of them came on Jonah Remsberg interceptions.
Despite having seven turnovers, South coach Sam Sellers was proud of the way his team fought adversity throughout.
"The biggest issue all season has been when things don’t go our way, we hung our heads and felt sorry for ourselves," Sellers said. "Tonight, there were a lot of things that didn’t go our way, but they kept fighting and I’m proud of that.
"There were a lot of opportunities tonight to quit. We didn’t."
Besides forcing seven turnovers, Newton (1-6 overall, 1-4 AVCTL-I) needed big games from senior Ben Schmidt, junior Kenyon Forest and senior Peyton Maxwell. Schmidt completed 13 of 27 passes for 335 yards and four touchdowns, while Forest had 252 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns. Maxwell added 115 yards receiving and a score.
The Railers accomplished this with nearly 30 players missing due to COVID-19 issues.
"We had a freshman center step up and we had a defensive lineman step up and they played phenomenally," Forest said. "I could not have done anything near what I did tonight without them, and of course, our quarterback leading us down. Our rushing game was getting going and it opened up the passing game.
"It was a really good team offensive effort."
South got off to a fast start with a pair of 5-yard touchdowns by senior Owen Bulleigh before Newton got on the board with a 74-yard pass from Schmidt to Maxwell.
The Cougars then matched their biggest lead of the night at 21-7 with 8:32 left in the second when Fries found sophomore Te’Jon McDaniel for a 17-yard score.
Newton scored on its next three drives after a South interception, punt and fumble. Schmidt connected with senior Xzavion Martin for a 45-yard score, Forest added a 21-yard touchdown run, and Schmidt found Maxwell with a 12-yard strike, giving the Railers a 28-21 halftime advantage.
"The second quarter’s where we lost this game," Sellers said. "The momentum really swung to their side, and we just did a poor job (with) a couple of coverage breakdowns (and) some turnovers."
South then regained the momentum in the third quarter after forcing Newton to a three-and-out on its first drive. The Cougars put together a 10-play, 83-yard drive, with Fries finding senior Jackson Hayes for a 12-yard score to tie it at 28 with 7:08 left in the period.
Three plays and 26 seconds later, Newton regained the lead with a 71-yard touchdown pass from Schmidt to Forest.
South came back to even the score at 35 on Jarrett Pittenger’s 2-yard run with 5:15 left in the third.
Schmidt called his own number with a 16-yard run with 1:32 left in the quarter to give Newton a 42-35 lead.
Newton forced South’s fourth fumble early in the fourth quarter and took nearly four-and-a-half minutes off the clock, but a 35-yard field goal by Collin Hershberger was wide left, giving South new life.
The Cougars pieced together an 80-yard drive that took over four minutes, with Fries connecting with senior AJ Johnson for the 26-yard score before the missed two-point conversion.
"For our defense to step up and get a stop there, with a little luck, the missed field goal, our offense went out and put a nice drive together," Sellers said.
Fries was 27 of 45 for 384 yards and three touchdowns. Hayes had eight catches for 121 yards and a touchdown, while Colin Schreiber added 103 yards on eight receptions.
"We feel good about our entire receiving corps," Sellers said. "That’s a huge position of strength for us."
Bulleigh led the Cougars in rushing with 128 yards and two touchdown on 20 carries while filling in for injured starter Brandt Cox at running back. He also had an interception.
Newton travels to Campus next week, while South faces Salina Central for the Mayor’s Cup at Salina Stadium.
"We talk about the trains rolling. We can’t stop it now," Jaax said.