The clock was ticking down to two minutes in the fourth quarter and the Newton Eagles needed a minor miracle to tie the score with Flora leading 7-0.
The Eagle defenders and some penalties against the Wolves forced a punt attempt. In addition, a Flora runner ran out of bounds to stop the clock, saving the Eagles one final timeout.
Flora went back to punt. It looked like Newton was going to get the ball back but in its territory with little time for a long scoring drive, barring a shanked punt.
Then the snap soared high over Jace Helm, who doubled as quarterback and punter for the Wolves. He ran back to pounce on the rolling ball as Newton players surrounded him. The Eagles had the ball at the Flora 16 with plenty of time to tie the score and force an overtime period – Coach Jason Fulton stated after the game he was not going for the win with a two-pointer if a game-ending touchdown was scored.
The Eagles lined up and ran the ball up the middle. There was a pileup as both teams reacted to a fumble. Then Flora players were indicating they had recovered and a moment later the referees confirmed by pointing to the opposite end zone. From there, it amounted to Flora running out the clock after Newton called its last timeout.
It was a night of missed opportunities for the Eagles and on a rain-soaked field during a cool, windy night that drew a good crowd of fans to the game. Newton lost its Homecoming game against a determined Flora squad that scored its lone touchdown on a fumble run into the end zone in the fourth quarter. It was one of three Eagle fumbles the Wolves recovered that night.
“In conditions like this, you can’t turn the ball over. We had our opportunities. Obviously, to lose on a fumble that was scooped and scored is not a good thing. We had our opportunity at the end. With two minutes left we got the ball back on a big play and we fumbled it right back to them. In these conditions, there’s always that possibility and we have to make sure it doesn’t happen. I hate it for the kids because I know they played hard,” Coach Fulton said after the game.
It was a night where the defenses shined as they got muddied up with a field soaked by rainfall hours before the game. The Eagles held Flora to 153 total yards and caused 38 yards in losses through the contest.
“The defense has been really good. They’ve showed it in practice and in the games lately. That’s why we did punt late and play for field position. We did get the ball back. [Flora] did do us a huge favor by stepping out of bounds and how the punt went. In that situation, we have to execute and we didn’t [on the next play],” Fulton said.
On offense, Newton was not stopped entirely with Adam Bridges picking up 155 yards on battering and battling runs against the Wolves. But the Eagles could not break into the end zone with Bridges picking up the yards. Altogether, Newton gained 167 yards on offense.
The closest the Eagle had at scoring came in the final minutes of the second quarter. Runs by Bridges placed the ball inside the 4-yard line on fourth down. Newton’s Kaleb Probst attempted a 21-yard field goal and missed as time ran out in the first half.
The scoreless deadlock continued into the fourth quarter. It ended unexpectedly when Flora’s Hayden Gibson picked up a Newton fumble and ran it 13 yards to the end zone. The point-after kick was good and with 5:54 to play, the Eagles faced defeat unless they scored a touchdown.
Their opportunity came after the muffed punt snap about three minutes later. But their third fumble ended their last chance.
“I’ve got to hand it to Flora. They’ve had quite a turnaround. I think they were 1-8 last year. Now, they can win another game for the playoffs,” Fulton said.
The Eagles will host Richland County High School on Friday, 18, in a crucial game that determines playoff hopes.