It seemed like an undefeated Newton-Conover on Friday wanted to give the game to the St. Stephens and deny coach Nick Bazzle a 100th career win. The Red Devils committed four turnovers in the first half — three lost fumbles and an interception, but they rebounded in the second half en route to a 28-14 win at St. Stephens.
“There could have been a little more shine on it,” Bazzle said. “It’s not that big of a deal to me. I have coaches that prepare just as hard as I do. I’m in a football place, and they love football in this community, and you’re supposed to win at Newton-Conover.”
The Red Devils scored three touchdowns in the second half, and senior running back Octavius Harden led the charge in the second half with 125 yards rushing on nine carries and his second touchdown of the night.
His biggest play of the half, however, was on special teams. Harden forced a fumble with 10 minutes 54 seconds left in the game from St. Stephens’ Jeff Ellis at the St. Stephens 45. Jake Cansler recovered the loose ball and returned it 31 yards to the Indian 14. Two plays later, quarterback Adonis Hewitt ran 13 yards to the right side of the end zone, and Newton-Conover led 21-7.
“We coach that everyday in practice,” Bazzle said. “It just happened to be Octavius (that forced the fumble) because he has enough savvy to make a play like that.”
St. Stephens also struggled in the first half with turnovers. The Indians had two fumbles, and they lost two more in the second half. Their last fumble came with 47.9 seconds left in the game at the Indian 5.
St. Stephens capitalized on the Red Devils’ first turnover of the night to take an early 7-0 lead. Newton-Conover fumbled the ball on the opening drive deep in its territory, and receiver Damien Clark ran 12 yards shortly after the turnover giving St. Stephens a 7-0 lead. Clark ran for 40 yards on 12 carries, and Dyson Littlejohn had a a team-high 77 yards on nine carries.
The Red Devils tied the game 12 minutes later on a 22-yard run by Harden. Harden ran for a game-high 172 yards and two touchdowns on 16 carries.
“We were so worried about their speed,” St. Stephens coach Fred Whalen said. “I know they have kids over there that run 4.4-second 40-yard dashes. Our defense had to bend and bend and bend, but it didn’t really break.”
Newton-Conover took the lead with 3:00 left in the third quarter on a 2-yard run by fullback Rashad Kissler, and Hewitt’s run 5 minutes later put the Red Devils up by two touchdowns.
Hewitt finished the night 2-of-4 passing for 23 yards with one interception. He also ran the ball 10 times for a touchdown and 52 yards. Jamal Coates was the Red Devils’ second-leading rusher with 94 yards on 11 carries.
Harden’s next-to-last run was the Red Devils’ final touchdown of the night. He carried the ball 42 yards with 6:48 left in the game and gave Newton-Conover a 28-7 lead.
The Indians made two big plays late in the game. Devin Shuford returned a kickoff 53 yards to the Newton-Conover 40, and Dyson Littlejohn scored less than a minute later on a 31-yard screen pass from quarterback Dylan Beiland. Beiland was 4 of 12 on the night for 68 yards passing and the touchdown.
“Dylan is getting better and better each week,” Whalen said. “He look a little more in control and is doing a good job for us.”
Whalen said injured senior quarterback Tanner Miller threw some Friday before the game and hopes to return in the next two weeks from a back injury.