Newark struggles in opening game
Yellowjackets fall to St. Marks, 27-6
The opening game of any football season has to end in either victory or defeat, with an unofficial rule of thumb being that the result can set the tone for the remainder of the season.
The Yellowjackets are hoping that last Friday night’s lopsided loss is the exception to that rule following a 27-6 defeat at the hands of St. Mark’s.
“Tough way to start the season,” head coach Barry Zehnder reflected, 48 hours after the final horn sounded. “St. Marks is always a very well-coached team and if you aren’t ready in every aspect, they will send you home unhappy. They beat us, no other way to put it. They deserved to win that game. They beat us in every aspect of football.”
Second half letdown
Newark trailed just 6–0 at the half and wasn’t playing to their full potential, according to Zehnder.
“I was hoping we would come out and play with enthusiasm and with confidence,” Zehnder said.
St. Mark’s quickly doused any hopes of that, scoring on the opening drive of the second half.
“They grabbed all the enthusiasm and confidence and never let us get it back,” Zehnder said of the Spartans’ touchdown.
Newark’s lone touchdown didn’t come until late in the game.
“After St. Marks put a couple scores on the board, we challenged the offense to reach down and find it inside of them to put a drive together,” Zehnder explained. “They did just that and gave us something to build off this week.”
Despite the loss, Zehnder pointed to sophomore Mele Stallings’ varsity debut as one of a few positive moments. Stalling missed much of last season with a broken wrist.
“He really worked hard in the offseason and we thought at times the growth he has made shined through,” Zehnder said of the two-way player, who was selected by the coaching staff to be a “practice captain” for the game in recognition of his outstanding effort in the offseason and preseason.
Zehnder was also pleased with a couple of other inexperienced players.
“I thought some young guys stepped up and showed the game lights weren’t too big for them and that we will be able to depend on them as the season moves on,” he said.
Those players included freshman punter Tabari Wright, who calmly fielded a bad snap and got the punt away. Stephen Casella also impressed the coaching staff.
“He showed us that he is going to battle and give effort,” Zehnder pointed out. “He hasn’t played much football in his life, and we have had to move him around to find where he can help us. The film showed us that he wants to be successful and wants to help his team.”
After missing all of last season with a torn ACL, Cameron Padgett started his first varsity game at center.
“He had struggled at times in the preseason with the shotgun snaps and it was a slight concern going into the game,” Zehnder admitted. “He overcame those mental issues that often accompany worrying about your snaps.”
Plenty to work on
As you would expect, Zehnder admitted that Newark has plenty to work on after its first real competition of the 2017 campaign. Scrimmages show a lot, but real games tend to highlight weaknesses in a much brighter light.
“We need to improve on ever ything,” Zehnder said. “This loss was on all of us, starting with me. I have to put the players and coaches in a better position to win a football game. Our players have to step up and take some ownership for their mistakes and especially some of the lack of effort we saw on film. But ultimately the head coach is responsible for making sure the players and assistant coaches have a chance to succeed. After a lot of selfevaluation, I didn’t do that in many cases.”
“We talked after the game about how adversity shows the true character off a man,” Zehnder said. “We will remind the team on Monday that half the teams in the state lost their first game. We only lost round one … we haven’t lost the fight.”
Newark has an extra day of practice with this week’s game scheduled for Saturday. Zehnder said the main advantage of the extra day is that the coaching staff can now spend more time on things that otherwise might only get five minutes or so of attention.
“We crank up practice, we remind them of expectations and we coach them on how to reach them,” Zehnder added. “Then we make sure we hold them to those expectations.”
Newark will gather Saturday morning for a pregame meal of bagels, fruit, juice and some light food before boarding the bus for a 10:30 a.m. kickoff at Concord High School.
Newark fell to St. Mark’s, 27-6, on Sept. 8.