REYNOLDSBURG — The mental and physical anguish on the faces of the Newark football team told the story Friday.
The Wildcats battled for 48 minutes and were a play away from the program’s best victory during coach Bill Franks’ second tenure. Instead, Reynoldsburg picked up the clinching first down with less than two minutes left to drop Newark 13-7 in Ohio Capital Conference-Buckeye Division play.
"We fought all four quarters, and we really wanted it," said Newark senior Max Durbin, whose tackle for loss forced the Raiders into a third-and-13 at their 27-yard line. Reynoldsburg’s Troy Martin, however, completed a play-action pop pass to Josep Spann, who broke a tackle short of the first-down marker and turned it into a 45-yard gain.
Newark (2-5, 0-2) was in search of the program’s third victory for the first time since 2016 and its first against a current OCC-Buckeye opponent since Groveport five years ago. The Wildcats tied the game at 7 midway through the second quarter on junior Tee Davie’s 3-yard touchdown run.
Newark’s defense stood strong, recording a trio of three and outs and holding Reynoldsburg (1-6, 1-1) out of the end zone at the end of the first half. The Raiders, however, overcame a 2nd-and-25 early in the fourth quarter and a 16-yard TD scramble by Martin gave the Raiders their deciding points with 9:35 left.
"We're learning how to compete," Newark coach Bill Franks said. "Now our next step is playing error-free football with discipline to win a close game. We did it earlier in the year twice, and now we're playing OCC good athletes. We just have to continue to play with discipline and play hard."
Newark responded with its best drive of the half as junior Steele Meister hit senior Trey Robinson to convert a pair of third-down conversions on throws of 8 and 17 yards. The Wildcats, however, were pushed back by a tackle for loss and a 15-yard penalty and eventually were forced to pooch punt when facing a fourth-and-23.
Newark had three previous drives that ended at or near the Reynoldsburg 30.
Reynoldsburg took the lead early in the second quarter on Josiah Smith’s 8-yard TD run, which converted a fourth-and-3. Newark answered with a 13-play, 90-yard drive, which was highlighted by a 12-yard pass to sophomore Carson Burnett and a 20-yard run by Davie before he finished it off.
"They just remember the drives that we didn't score, and those are disappointing, Franks said. "We have to clean up what we can. That 90-yard drive certainly was great and is something we can continue to build on."
The Newark defense rose to the occasion with Reynoldsburg driving late in the third quarter as senior Calvin Untied and sophomore Austin Rose led the charge on a fourth-and-2 stop. Untied totaled 10 1/2 tackles to lead the Wildcats, and Durbin was next at 5 1/2 and freshman Preston Lunsford five.
"We work our tails off in practice," said Durbin, noting the leadership of assistant coaches Justin Richards and Howie Bretz. "We are doing everything they tell us, and it's working out. (Reynoldsburg) had a few big plays that set us apart."
Davie gained 68 yards on 19 carries, and Meister was 9-for-20 for 73 yards, connecting with Robinson four times for 34. Martin and Jarin Mock combined to go 18-for-28 for 204 yards for Reynoldsburg.
The Wildcats visit Central Crossing next Friday. With Groveport and Lancaster following, they have the opportunity to win their way into the postseason.
"We had our ups and downs. I only have three games left, and I am kind of down about it, but I know we can come back next week and definitely win," Durbin said. "It would mean a lot to me for my senior year."
This article originally appeared on Newark Advocate: Newark football fights to finish in narrow loss at Reynoldsburg