NEWARK – Lost in Newark’s heartbreaking loss at Zanesville was the performance of a defense that has been much-maligned in recent seasons.
The Wildcats only let the explosive Blue Devils run three plays in the third quarter, and held them to 239 total yards.
Now, in a game to break in the new field turf at White Field, Mount Vernon brings in a high-flying spread offense that put up 55 points in a rout of Marion Harding. Newark, however, will not be intimidated.
“Our leadership is completely different, and we’ve worked harder,” junior linebacker Chase Richardson said. “This team believes we can win. In the second half, we shut them (Zanesville) down and gave our offense a chance to win. We need to put two halves together.”
As coach Mike Kopachy pointed out, Newark is playing a lot of young players. “Three of the four guys in the secondary were making their first start,” he said. “But Kenny Chesterton had a great game, Doren Barrett was coming back from injury which was a big boost, and Hayden Thacker has stepped up his defense.”
“We’re young, but have a lot of confidence,” said Thacker, a senior free safety who also plays split end. “The coaches have been giving us a lot of preparation. The leadership for sure has stepped up and taken control of the team.”
Mount Vernon, under new coach Justin Todd, returns only one starter on offense and two on defense. But quarterback Mason Williams threw for 348 yards and four touchdowns, also running for two, while Nate Davis ran back a kick and a punt for scores.
“We’ll see the spread all year,” Richardson said. “We need to play fast on the corners and read our keys.”
“Mount Vernon has a lot of speed,” added Thacker. “We need to contain them and shut down their playmakers. We need to set the tone for this season, right now.”
Newark has lost starting quarterback Kaleb Jarrett, who threw for 175 yards and a TD at Zanesville, with a broken collarbone. Sophomore Ty Scott will be under center, and Kopachy is confident in his abilities.
“Kaleb is one of our captains and provides great leadership,” he said. “But Ty Scott is fully capable of doing great things. He’s very athletic and talented, and actually adds a dimension with his athleticism.”
Kopachy and the Wildcats can’t wait to run on to the new turf Friday night.
“The loss to Zanesville stings, but the fact we’re opening up a new era at White Field, makes it sting a little less,” he said.
Aug. 28: Zanesville 20, Newark 17
Sept. 4: Mount Vernon, 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 11: @Licking Heights, 7 p.m.
Sept. 18: Pickerington North, 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 25: @Gahanna, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 2: Grove City, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 9: Groveport, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 16: @Pickerington Central, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 23: Reynoldsburg, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 30: @Lancaster, 7:30 p.m.