After winning 21 straight games at Gurley Stadium and five straight games in the 2010 season, Newton-Conover found itself in unfamiliar territory early Friday night.
At halftime, the visiting Bandys Trojans led 10-7 over the Red Devils.
“I guess we thought we were going to go out there and walk the dog on them, and that definitely didn’t happen,” said Newton-Conover running back Octavius Harden. “They made us play hard in this game.”
But after trailing at the game’s midway point, Newton-Conover scored 14 unanswered points to secure a 21-10 victory and maintain an unbeaten season.
“We won, but we got outplayed right here at Gurley Stadium,” said Newton-Conover head coach Nick Bazzle. “We didn’t play very smart. Luckily, we had enough points to win, but I am telling you, I am really disappointed in our football team tonight.”
From the start the game was a defensive battle. In fact, both teams mustered just 80 yards of offense, with the Red Devils posting 46 yards in eight plays to Bandys’ 34 yards in 13 plays. Yet, while the Red Devils out-gained Bandys in the opening quarter, the Trojans led the game 2-0 going into the second quarter.
Newton-Conover’s Adonis Hewitt mishandled a snap that rolled into the end zone before the Red Devils won in a scrum to prevent a Bandys touchdown.
Bandys returned the ensuing kickoff 32 yards, but they couldn’t cash in any more points. The Red Devils’ defense forced a Trojan punt.
Then another miscue stung the Red Devils when Bandys recovered a fumble at the Newton-Conover 39-yard line. On the next play, however, Bandys lost possession on a fumble that was recovered by Newton-Conover’s Ryan Lutz.
That turnover sparked a 11-play, 63-yard drive that ended when Hewitt scored on a four-yard run to put Newton-Conover ahead 7-2 with 5:13 left in the first half.
A long kick-off return by Bandys set the Trojans up in good field position, and Dominique Young kept the visitors’ drive alive on a key fourth-and-two at the Newton-Conover 16-yard line. A few plays later Gilliam rushed behind his left side of the line to score on a 10-yard run that finished an eight-play 58-yard drive. Young’s two-point conversion put Bandys ahead 10-7 with 1:03 left in the first half. Gilliam along with Bandys fullback Dylan King combined for 81 yards rushing in 13 carries. Young rushed 14 times for 34 yards.
Bandys threatened again in the first half after the Trojans’ Derick Stevens recovered a Newton-Conover fumble on the ensuing kick-off. The Trojans rushed the ball into the middle three times and wound the clock down to one second before bringing kicker Gear-Row on to attempt for a failed field goal attempt.
“You have got to give credit to Bandys,” Bazzle said. “They came ready to play. I knew they would. They always do. They just gave us one heck of a ball game.”
In many ways, the second half was a different story. Octavius Harden who was held quiet by a stingy Bandys defense helped break open the three-point ball game.
With 8:47 to play in the third quarter, Harden caught a lateral from Hewitt and raced 50 yards to score and put Newton-Conover ahead 14-10. Harden finished the game with 149 yards on 11 carries, with most of the yards coming in the second half.
“As a running back you don’t want to fuss at your line, but that’s what I did a little bit, and I guess they felt down about themselves in the first half,” Harden said, adding he tried to restore confidence in the second half. “I said we have got to be focused and we have got to be ready to play.”
Newton-Conover scored its final points after a fake punt on fourth and four went 24 yards on a Jamal Coates run to the Bandys 22-yard line. Hewitt scored on a nine-yard run to seal the Newton-Conover victory.
“I am proud of the way our guys played,” said Bandys coach Randy Lowman. “If we had a few more efforts like that we wouldn’t be on a four-game losing streak.
“Our guys went out there and played hard,” he continued. “We’ll get better. We’re getting better than we were a week ago.”
On the winning side, Bazzle is now looking for his team to improve, too.
“I am tired of ugly wins, and this was probably the worst I’ve seen,” he said. “We have got an East Burke team next week thaat, if we don’t get any better, it isn’t going to be any prettier.”
The Red Devils (6-0, 2-0) host the Cavaliers on Friday.
Bandys (2-4, 0-2) will host West Caldwell (1-5, 0-2) next week as both teams look for their first win in conference play.