NEWARK — “Today is our day,” yelled a coach after Newark recovered a first-half fumble Friday.
It indeed appeared as if the worm was turning. The Wildcats, who were on the wrong side of the breaks in a loss to Grove City a week ago, recovered three first-half fumbles against Groveport, but they were unable to take full advantage.
Instead, Groveport converted successive second-half fumbles into touchdowns and sent Newark to its seventh consecutive loss to start the season, 21-14, in Ohio Capital Conference-Ohio action at White Field.
“It’s the story of our season,” Newark coach Mike Kopachy said. “We made critical mistakes in critical situations — turnovers, blown assignments defensively.”
Leading 7-0 in the third quarter, Newark (0-7, 0-4) fumbled at its 26-yard line. Six plays later, Groveport (5-2, 2-2) scored to cut the deficit to 7-6.
The Wildcats picked up a first down on the ensuing possession, but another fumble on a bad exchange between quarterback and running back gave the Cruisers the ball at the Newark 41.
The Cruisers again took advantage. Corey Newman’s 3-yard touchdown run on the first play of the quarter gave the Cruisers the lead for good.
“We had some penalties early on, two touchdowns called back for a couple blocks in the back,” Groveport coach Bryan Schoonover said. “I thought we moved the ball pretty well tonight. At halftime, the adjustment was making sure we had some ball security, and then when we got inside red zone, obviously we had to put points on the board.”
Newark had chances to answer, but the fumbles sapped the momentum the offense had built up in a solid first half. The Wildcats went three-and-out on back-to-back possessions, and Jacob Huffman’s 20-yard touchdown run with 3:23 left in the game put Newark in a 21-7 hole.
The Cruisers rode the back of Newman, who carried 36 times for 192 yards. The Wildcats then twice let Huffman get loose on zone reads when they went charging after Newman and backfield mate Brymar Payne.
“It’s little discipline things,” Kopachy said. “We are playing a lot of sophomores on defense, and it’s easy to get real excited over and miss an assignment. That’s what happened a couple times down the stretch. I hear our coaches, yelling, ‘Q!’ and in the heat of the battle, young guys make mistakes.”
Groveport ran for 405 yards. Newark was held to just 73 on 31 carries.
“I think definitely it helps because we have been in some situations where we have been down and had to come back to win,” Schoonover said. “I don’t know if winning has anything to do with it, but I think just being in there in that atmosphere, they know what it’s like and are able to adapt to it and make some plays.”
Ty Scott threw a 4-yard touchdown pass to Ashton Gilkey with 1:28 left, but the Wildcats were unable to recover the ensuing onside kick. Scott was 14-of-24 for 156 yards, and Gilkey had eight catches for 82 yards.
Newark stuck to the ground on its first-half touchdown drive with the exception of a key 32-yard third-down strike to Taveon Swift. D’ante Woods carried seven times on the 73-yard drive. The last six yards came on a fourth-and-2 that Woods tucked in beside the right side of the offensive line and then slipped into the end zone.
Kopachy called a timeout before the play. He elected to keep his offense on the field.
“We were ready to go,” senior tackle Vinnie Pancini said.