Newton High head coach Ed Ergenbright and his coaching staff challenged the Cardinal football players this week of preparation to take on Class 3A No. 8 Pella on Friday.
“We challenged the kids this week to be at our best on Friday and do things right. We have to stay in the game to give ourselves a chance to pull an upset,” Ergenbright said. “I think we can certainly do that.”
Ergenbright and the Cardinals know the Pella Little Dutch, who finished as the Class 3A state runner-up in 2017 after three straight 3A state championships, present stiff competition. The Cardinals (4-3) and Little Dutch (6-1) kickoff at 7:30 p.m. in a Class 3A District 7 game on Friday at Pella.
Newton is coming off a 50-39 win over Grinnell at home to run its District 7 record to 2-1. Pella, which was ranked No. 4 a week ago, suffered its first loss of the season — a 36-35 overtime loss to now No. 9 Oskaloosa — and is also 2-1 in district action.
“Pella is really good. It has been in the state finals four years in a row and it has a strong program,” Ergenbright said. “We’ll have our hands full, but that doesn’t mean we can’t go down there and come away with a victory.”
Controlling the line of scrimmage is basic for success on the football field. The Cardinals rushed for more than 500 yards against Grinnell. Newton is the top rushing team in District 7 with 2,339 yards on 335 carries. It also has scored 30 rushing touchdowns this season.
Pella has the second-best rushing offense in the district — 246 carries for 1,506 yards — and is third in passing with 1,039 yards on 77 completions out of 133 attempts. The Dutch are led by senior quarterback Ryan Gustafson, who is 6-foot-1 inches and 190 pounds.
Gustafson is 71-of-118 passing for 974 yards with 12 TD passes and had thrown four interceptions. He also had rushed for 225 yards. Senior running back Sam Warner (6-0, 210) is the workhorse on the ground with 395 yards on 55 carries for Pella.
But sophomore Aaron Downs is a dual threat as he had 338 yards rushing on 34 carries and has caught 20 passes for 287 yards. Downs had nine rushing TDs and seven TD receptions.
“On offense, Pella has a really talented quarterback in the Gustafson kid. He likes to throw the ball deep. He’s got a big tight end — Nick DeJong (6-6, 255) — and a couple of running backs who are pretty darn good players,” Ergenbright said. “They are a balanced offensive team with a good offensive line.”
Newton counters offensively with four of the top 10 rushers in the district. Senior Josh Miller is No. 2 with 654 yards on 94 carries as the Cardinals’ top running back. Junior Dylan Farver, 69 carries for 440 yards, is No. 3 in the district. Farver has 10 rushing touchdowns and Miller has scored nine TDs.
Junior William Cheng has 413 yards on 54 carries and three TDs on the ground and a TD reception. Logan Cummins, another junior, is averaging 11.6 yards a carry — 30 carries for 347 yards.
Directing the Cardinal offense is junior quarterback Kyle Long, who has rushed for 103 yards and four TDs. Long is 39-of-76 for 616 yards passing with three TD passes and two interceptions. Junior split end Julian Hotchkin has nine catches for 241 yards and two touchdowns. Senior tight end Jacob Murphy had 10 receptions for 165 yards.
“We have a solid defensive plan. We just got to try to do what we do on offense, and if it is good enough, great,” Ergenbright said. “I don’t think it sends the right message to your kids if you pull out a lot of things you don’t normally do. We’re just going to go do our thing.”
Newton senior defensive end Jaise Gulling set a new team career record after having 1.5 quarterback sacks in the Grinnell game. Gulling holds the Newton career quarterback sack mark of 10.5 sacks. He has five sacks this season.
The previous NHS career quarterback sack mark was nine shared by Jordan Travis (2012-14) and Cameron Dloughy (2005-06). Gulling is one sack away from tying the season mark of six sacks held by Reece Rosenquist (2016).
Senior linebacker Thomas Cox is leading the Cardinal defense with 30 solo tackles and 13 assisted tackles this season. Mason Lee, a senior defensive end, has 26 solo stops and 16 assisted tackles. Gulling has 18 solos and 12 assisted tackles.
Three defensive backs for Newton — junior Camden Winther and seniors Reece Caves and Aaron Bartels have 20 or more solo tackles.
Ergenbright said Pella plays really good defense. He said the Dutch players run to the ball well and they are big and athletic players. Senior Nate Kissinger has 19 solo tackles and 20 assisted tackles for Pella and Sam Warren has 15 solos and 16 assisted tackles.
“We have to clean up the penalties. We can’t have 200 or more yards in penalties. It comes down to being more disciplined on both sides of the ball,” Ergenbright said.
Newton and Pella have played 11 times in their football history with Newton having a 6-5 edge. The Cardinals and Little Dutch were in a Class 3A district in 2014 and 2015 with Pella winning three games.
In 2015, Pella beat Newton 47-7. The two met in district play in 2014 with Pella winning 64-14 then faced off in the 3A playoffs with the Dutch winning 56-14.
Contact Jocelyn Sheets at
641-792-3121 ext. 6535