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September 9, 2009 > Newark ekes out win in football opener

Newark ekes out win in football opener

By Gary van den Heuvel

The opening contest of Newark Memorial High School's football season played like two separate football games, the first half of which was dominated by Newark, but the second half had the Cougars scrambling to hold onto the lead in the face of a furious rally by the Alameda Hornets. When the clock finally hit zero, Newark was happy to get off the patchy natural grass of Alameda's Thompson Field with a 20-14 win.

Senior wingback Sean Guterres started the scoring for Newark Memorial on the third play from scrimmage when he exploded through the right side of the line and dashed 65 yards for a touchdown and 6-0 lead when the extra point attempt sailed wide left.

Moments later, the Cougars added to their lead on an offensive mistake by Alameda. Quarterback Todd Ruckman threw a backwards lateral screen pass to speedy running back Mike Cunningham, but the ball bounced before it got to the target and Cunningham couldn't recover the live ball. Linebacker Anthony Jackson picked up the loose ball and went 37 yards untouched for the score. Kicker Anthony Benavente's conversion attempt was true this time, and Newark led 13-0 less than four minutes into the game.

For Jackson, it wouldn't be the only mark he would make on the game; he was also the primary rusher in the Cougars' run-heavy offense, finishing the game with 111 yards on 14 carries.

Alameda also featured a heavy running emphasis in the two-pronged attack of Cunningham and Jeremy Yu, but could never get anything going in the first half. Newark scored their third touchdown in the final minute of the half, rambling downfield on the legs of Jackson, who carried three times on the drive for 66 yards (including runs of 31 and 28 yards), and Guterres, who contributed an 8-yard run and overall ran for 78 yards on 5 carries and the early touchdown. Cougars quarterback Nick Pohndorf's 1-yard keeper sent Newark into the half with a seemingly comfortable 20-0 cushion.

Whatever Alameda Coach Steve Rocklin said to his team during the half was pretty effective; the Hornets' first possession in the third quarter was an 80-yard, 11-play drive in which they accomplished what they'd been unsuccessfully attempting to do in the first half -- namely, dominating the line of scrimmage and showcasing their two talented running backs. Cunningham carried the ball 5 times on the drive for 46 yards, and Yu had 3 touches for 26, including the final 8 yards for the Hornets' first touchdown.

The next series resulted in a Newark punt, and Alameda's growing momentum continued when Cunningham blasted off the line of scrimmage for 64 yards and pay-dirt. Suddenly, with a full quarter to play, Newark's lead was down to a shaky 6 points and the Cougar defense looked worn down by the explosiveness of Cunningham, who was the game's top rusher with 221 yards on 28 carries and a touchdown.

Following another Cougar punt - a short punt which put Alameda at the Newark 42 yard line -- the Newark defense reached down deep and stopped the Hornets on 4th and 3; a quick handoff to Yu gained only 2 yards and the Cougars regained possession with over eight minutes to play.

The stiff Hornets defense forced another Cougar 3-and-out, and the Alameda crowd sensed a dramatic comeback win was in the offing when Cunningham ripped off a 32-yard run on first down, putting the ball at Newark's 35.

But this was where Alameda began to implode. On first down, a holding penalty cost the Hornets 10 yards. On first and 20 from the 45, linebacker Andrew Alvarez ran down quarterback John Ruck (who'd been inserted to replace Ruckman) for a sack and another loss of 10 yards; on second and 30, Alameda was again called for holding, making it second and 40 from their own 35. They couldn't make up the difference in the next two plays and were forced to punt.

Newark had to make one last defensive stand, after punting with two minutes remaining. After an incomplete pass on first down, Alameda went back to the run, but Cunningham couldn't deliver the big play on second or third down; the Cougars finally iced the game by stopping Yu on a fourth and 2 at midfield with under 40 seconds to go.

Coach Rich Swift's squad continues their nonleague schedule this Friday, Sept. 11 on the road against Castro Valley, followed by games against Milpitas and Arroyo. The Cougars' first MVAL contest is a roadie on October 3 against John F. Kennedy, to be played at Washington High School's Tak Fudenna Stadium.

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