The Newton football team will make a couple long bus rides tonight. Its trip to Humboldt is 136 miles from Newton Senior High School. That’s basically two hours each way.
Depending on the outcome of the Class 3A first round playoff game between the Cardinals and Wildcats, the ride home will either be an enjoyable one, or seem much longer.
Newton might as well make the trip worth it.
Tonight, the Cardinals make their first playoff appearance since 2007, when they fell in the second round to West Des Moines Valley. Their two seasons after that were rough, as they went 3-6 in 2008 and 1-8 in 2009. Newton narrowly missed the playoffs the next two years despite posting a winning district record. It went 4-5 overall in 2010 and 5-4 last season.
Last year, the Cardinals got out to a 4-0 record and were ranked as high as eighth, but lost their next game and final three games of the season to finish 5-4 overall. They came up literally a yard short of the postseason, as a field goal barely missed at the end of regulation in the season finale at Carlisle and sealed the Newton’s fate.
This year’s Cardinals have had almost an exact opposite season compared to 2011. After an 0-3 start, the thought of making the postseason didn’t seem realistic. But then Newton earned a huge 28-27 Homecoming upset over seventh-ranked South Tama to even its district record at 1-1.
But the Cards hit the lowest of lows one week later. On the road against No. 3 Grinnell, Newton was dismantled 49-7 in a game the Tigers led 42-7 at halftime.
The following week against Dallas Center-Grimes, the Cards began turning things around. Their defense started shutting opponents down, leading them to a 17-7 win over the Mustangs, a 17-13 non-district upset at Adel-DeSoto-Minburn Oct. 5, a 35-0 clobbering of winless Saydel and then last Friday’s 27-6 win over Ballard to clinch a playoff berth.
“They’re happy. They deserve to be,” Newton head coach Ed Ergenbright said about his players after Friday’s win. “It’s a great group of kids and they kept fighting and believing in what we’re trying to do. They won some tight and critical ballgames to get into the playoffs. It’s gratifying as a coach to see kids get better every week.”