Newton-Conover converted four Maiden turnovers into touchdowns as the Red Devils defeated the Blue Devils 48-26 in both teams’ conference opener.
“That was the difference in the game, I think,” said Newton-Conover’s Jake Cansler, who intercepted Maiden quarterback Matt Johnson’s first pass of the game and later recovered two fumbles. “We got the ball back to the offense plenty of times.”
Maiden coach Brian Brown, too, said turnovers were the difference in the contest.
“We played good enough to win, except for (the turnovers),” he said. “We said at the beginning of the game, whoever turned the ball over the most was going to lose, and we did.”
The turnovers were big, but they weren’t the only basis for the Red Devils win over their rivals from Maiden. Newton-Conover’s ground game amassed huge yardage for another factor in the Red Devils’ win.
Octavius Harden led the Red Devils with 109 rushing yards, most of which came in the second half, and two touchdowns. Jamal Coates added 92 yards, while Jervasse Herrin added another 103 yards and two touchdowns on the ground. Rashad Kissler rushed for 70 yards and a touchdown.
Newton-Conover coach Nick Bazzle called Coates and Kissler a “big-time tandem.”
“We came out here to play as a team. The Red Devils vs. the Blue Devils is the biggest rivalry in our conference. We’re at Maiden so we had to play our hardest,” Kissler said, adding that Maiden’s turnovers were “big.”
“Our defense stepped up tonight,” he added.
On Maiden’s first play from scrimmage, Cansler intercepted the Johnson pass and set up the Red Devils on the Maiden 17-yard line. Six plays later, Newton-Conover quarterback Adonis Hewitt scored on a 1-yard sneak.
After both teams failed to convert fourth downs in their opponents’ territory, Maiden got the ball back. However, fourth down rolled around again, and this time, Newton-Conover blocked the only attempted punt of the night.
After recovering the ball, Newton-Conover marched 47 yards in six plays to score again. This time it was Jervasse Herrin, who scored his first touchdown on a 34-yard run.
Down 14-0, Maiden was not out. On its ensuing possession, Maiden’s Alex Lomax returned the kickoff 25 yards. A short run by Maiden’s Nate Johnson was aided by a Newton-Conover penalty, and Nate Johnson capped a six-play, 57-yard drive to make the score 14-7 early in the second quarter.
Newton-Conover’s Kissler then took over for the Red Devils. He returned the ensuing kickoff to the Maiden 39-yard line. After Cameron Shuford rushed for 25 yards on a broken double-pass play, Kissler got the ball twice more, including a nine-yard scoring run. After a failed PAT Newton-Conover led 20-7.
Maiden didn’t let the game slip away, however. Matt Johnson scored on a break-away, 25-yard run that capped a six-play, 63-yard drive for Maiden. Johnson also connected with Holden Cox on two consecutive passing plays that went 72 yards to set up Nate Johnson’s second score of the night.
Add Herrin’s second touchdown for the Red Devils, and at halftime, Newton-Conover held on to a 26-21 lead.
“The first half we stunk it up That’s the bottom line,” said Bazzle, who also wasn’t happy with the Red Devils penalties. “I don’t know how you come out flat here, but we got out there and got tired, and we didn’t respond to what they were doing in the first half.”
It seemed the Red Devils continued to be “flat” at the start of the second half.
Maiden’s Matt Johnson broke up a Newton-Conover pitch play, and recovered the loose ball. That sparked a 10-play, 60-yard drive that ended when Johnson passed four yards to Cox for a score. A roughing-the-passer penalty against Newton-Conover on fourth down gave Maiden new life on the drive. With the touchdown, Maiden took their first lead of the night, 28-26, but it was also their final points of the game.
Cansler recovered a Johnson fumble to kill one Blue Devil drive, while James Hill recovered another fumble to stop another Maiden march. Another Maiden fumble near the goal-line at the end of a long completion from Johnson to Hasan Hopper gave the Red Devils the ball on their own goal line. They marched the length of the field to score a final time and seal the road victory to improve to 5-0. Newton-Conover hosts Bandys next week.
Maiden falls to 3-2 and will go to West Caldwell next week.
“We’re going to bounce back,” Brown said. “I’m not worried about that. It is a marathon, not a sprint. We’ve got good character on this team, we played hard, we just can’t turn it over.”