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Cards' season was one of redemption

Published: Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2012 11:28 a.m. CDT • Updated: Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2012 12:07 p.m. CDT

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There were plenty of tears shed in the Newton locker room after the Cardinals’ season-ending 42-3 loss at Humboldt Oct. 24. There were many sentimental hugs between players, coaches and pats on the back.

It was an emotional scene, to say the least.

But amidst the sadness of another season coming to a close, Newton knew it had a lot to be proud of. For starters, the loss came in the first round of the state playoffs — somewhere the Cardinals hadn’t been since 2007.

More importantly was what it took for them to get there. In 2012, Newton did the seemingly unthinkable by recovering from a 1-4 start to the season to make the playoffs. Instead of throwing in the towel when things were at their absolute worst this season, the Cardinals redeemed themselves by winning four straight games and getting their fans excited again.

The word I kept hearing throughout the second half of the season from Newton players and head coach Ed Ergenbright was “resilient.” With each win, that word become more and more true. That’s what I’ll remember most about this season.

Ergenbright always spoke highly of his seniors, when times were good and when times were bad. Especially of his senior captains. That group consisted of Jesse Bates, Dakota Hills, Ryan Jolivette, Derrick Hurt and Collin Reynolds. Four of them were two-way starters and the leadership of all five was pivotal to Newton turning its season around.

Let us rewind this season to take a game-by-game look at Cardinals football in 2012:

Week 1 (Aug. 24) vs. Norwalk — Featuring a starting lineup filled with many sophomores and juniors, Newton was no match for the Warriors — who began the season ranked No. 1 in Class 3A by several publications. Norwalk won 42-14, scoring 14 points in the first, second and third quarters. It rolled up 498 yards of offense, including 300 on the ground. Warriors’ senior Kenny Floyd gained 213 yards and five touchdowns on just 19 carries. Newton sophomore quarterback Tyler Wood made the first start of his career and threw his first two touchdowns — a 75-yarder to Bates and a 37-yarder to Reynolds.

Week 2 (Aug. 31) at Knoxville — Newton was hit hard by a string of mono in the week leading up to its game vs. Knoxville. That, combined with having several starters ineligible, made for a Newton offense that was all out of sorts in a 12-6 loss to the Panthers. At one point in the game, the Cardinals had seven sophomores on the field — which Ergenbright said is the most he’s seen in his 10 years leading the team. Newton didn’t score until there was a minute and 47 seconds left in the game, and it was too little, too late. It mustered just 135 yards of offense.

Week 3 (Sept. 7) at Boone — Things went from bad to worse for Newton when it played Boone, falling 34-6 in a game it trailed only 7-6 at halftime. The Cards’ offense was inept once again, as its 129 total offensive yards were less than half its 287 punting yards. The Toreadors ran for 265 yards and gained 365 overall.

Week 4 (Sept. 14) vs. South Tama — With an 0-3 start to the season, apparently Homecoming was just what Newton needed. It hosted 3-0 South Tama and downed the Trojans 28-27 in a wild game at H.A. Lynn Field. The teams alternated touchdowns throughout, and a blocked South Tama extra point on its final score ended up being huge. A one-yard TD run by Hills, plus a Nick Easley point after with 11:18 left to play ended up being the game-winner. The Cardinals gained a season-best 330 yards of offense, most of it coming through the air as Wood completed 21-of-31 passes for 249 yards. Reynolds had his first big game of the year, making nine receptions for 142 yards. It was the first game back for several Newton starters who were ineligible for the first three. In his first time touching the ball this season, senior Andrew Clements returned the kickoff after the Trojans’ first score and took it 91 yards for a TD.

Week 5 (Sept. 21) at Grinnell — As high as spirits were for Newton after the South Tama win, they were equally as low following a forgettable 49-7 loss the next week at No. 5 Grinnell. The Tigers led 42-7 at halftime and rolled up 475 yards of offense in the game. Senior Joe Nowasell had 205 yards receiving and two touchdowns in the first half — on just four receptions. The Cardinals were held to 126 yards of offense. The loss made Newton 1-4 on the season and 1-2 in district play.

Week 6 (Sept. 28) vs. Dallas Center-Grimes — This is where Newton’s turnaround began. The Cardinals finally got a break in the schedule as they faced a team that was equally struggling in 1-4 Dallas Center-Grimes, and they took advantage with a 17-7 win. Newton did all its scoring in the first half, led by a huge effort from Reynolds. He finished with 11 receptions for a school-record 177 yards — with 10 of those receptions and two touchdowns in the first half. At 2-2 in district 4, Newton suddenly was back in the playoff picture.

Week 7 (Oct. 5) at Adel-DeSoto-Minburn — Technically, Newton had nothing to gain or lose in its non-district matchup at No. 8 ADM. But the confidence it left Adel with was invaluable. Newton stunned the Tigers on their home turf, using a bend-but-don’t-break defense to power a 17-13 win. Hills had a 46-yard touchdown run in the first quarter — Newton’s longest run of the season — and Wood connected with Clements for an eventual game-winning 46-yard TD pass with 2:57 to play. Reynolds intercepted ADM in Newton’s endzone on the Tigers’ final drive that reached the 10-yard line.

Week 8 (Oct. 12) vs. Saydel — Despite thrashing winless Saydel 35-0, it was somewhat of a disappointing Senior Night for the Cardinals at H.A. Lynn Field, as they didn’t even get to play a full half of football in a game that was called due to lightning with three minutes left in the second quarter. Newton led 28-0 after the first, and Wood tied a school record by throwing three TD passes, including two to Reynolds. Thw win evened the Cardinals’ overall record at 4-4, and put them at 3-2 in district play.

Week 9 (Oct. 19) at Ballard — Newton entered the last game of the regular season knowing it would clinch its first playoff berth in five years with a win, and it took care of business. The Cardinals’ defense and mistake-free offense led them to a 27-6 win over the Bombers, allowing Newton to have a winning record at 5-4 overall and finish fourth place in the district at 4-2. Junior defensive lineman Will Brock had a monster game, recording 10 solo tackles, returning an interception for a touchdown and blocking a punt that also was returned for a score.

Playoffs First Round (Oct. 24) at Humboldt — In the postseason for the first time since 2007, Newton made the 2-hour trip up to Humboldt, and it was an especially long ride home afer the Cardinals’ season was ended with a 42-3 loss. The Wildcats scored on six of their first seven possessions and rolled up 475 yards of offense in a game they led 28-3 at halftime.

Newton’s 10 opponents this season currently have a record of 55-44. Six of them made the playoffs, and the two that remain — No. 2 Grinnell and No. 9 South Tama — play each other Friday in the state quarterfinals.

Stat leaders

Wood was the first sophomore quarterback to start for Newton in the team’s 110-year history. While he made his fair share of mistakes, he often showed he could shoulder the offense — especially with a running game that was ineffective for most the season. He finished second in the district with 1,299 yards passing, completed 105-of-189 attempts (55.6) with eight touchdowns and 13 interceptions. He’ll enter next season needing just 774 yards to become the school’s all-time passing yardage leader — a mark held by 2011 graduate Brian Rose.

Running the ball was a struggle for the Cardinals for most of 2012, although they got stronger as the season went on. Hills led the team with 454 yards and six scores on 123 attempts (3.7 yards per carry) in nine games played. Wood added 117 yards and score.

Reynolds ends his prep football career far-and-away Newton’s most prolific receiver in school history. This season, he led the district with 46 receptions, was second in yards 693 and had five touchdowns. He shares or holds eight school receiving records: Career receptions (95), career yards (1,424), touchdowns (12), single-game yards (177), single-game receptions (16), single-season yardage (731) and isingle-season receptions (49). He consistently made spectacular catches for Newton’s offense over the past two years. Defenses knew he was the Cards’ best weapon, but that didn’t slow him down.

Hills made 18 receptions for 161 yards this season, Clements had 15 for 140 and sophomore Deonne Harris had 13 for 116.

Newton’s kicking game will be a strong poing the next two seasons, as Easley went 5-for-7 on field goals as a sophomore and 17-of-20 on extra points.

Despite missing a game, Hills finished as Newton’s leading tackler with 56 total — including 42 solo. He had seven tackles for a loss, five sacks and forced two fumbles. Brock had 54.5 total tackles, 45 solo, eight for a loss, two sacks and recovered two fumbles. Jolivette had 39 solo stops, six of them for a loss, 1.5 sacks and an interception. Hurt will be sorely missed on the offensive and defensive line next season, and like Reynolds, could very well garner all-state recognition. He finished with 39.5 total tackles, 31 solo, with 13 of them for a loss. Junior Levi Michener had 31 solo tackles, eight for a loss and four sacks, Bates had 25 solo tackles and Reynolds had 28 solo. Senior Michael Miller also made a lot of big plays on defense, recording 28 total tackles, 23 solo, 12 for a loss, 4.5 sacks and two fumble recoveries.

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