Effingham Daily News, Effingham, IL

August 28, 2013

Fulton: "You've got to believe"

Newton looks to end playoff drought

Daily News

---- — NEWTON — Six years doesn't seem like that long ago for some people.


But for Newton coach Jason Fulton , that six-year span is entirely too long.


The Newton Eagles haven't been to the playoffs since 2007 after a strong run as an area powerhouse in the early to mid-2000s, including a state runner-up finish in 2005.


The goal for Fulton and the Eagles is to end that streak, and it comes down to one ingredient for his team.


"We can get there, there's no doubt we can get there. (But) they have to believe they can do it, and you have to show it on the field," Fulton said.


Despite a 4-5 record in 2012, Newton was just a few plays away from ending that streak. A fifth win does not guarantee a team a playoff spot, but Fulton said the Eagles had enough playoff points accrued to be selected as a playoff team if they'd won one more game.


Newton played Olney tight in 2012 but lost 21-13, and fell early in the season to Casey-Westfield 28-13.


The key to returning to the playoff lies there.


"We have to win close games," Fulton said simply.


The Little Illini Conference is expected to be tough as always, with Olney, Robinson and Lawrenceville looking strong. Fulton hopes his team can continue the work they did at the end of the year with a two-game winning streak, and break in to the top three.


"We were really close to turning the corner," he said. "We've got some experience coming back, but more than anything, that's always the goal. We felt like we made a lot of great strides last year."


Newton's five losses came to Bethalto, Casey-Westfield, Robinson, Olney and Lawrenceville. The Eagles topped Flora, Marshall, Edwards County and Paris.


The Eagles face a similar schedule this year, with the non-conference game against Bethalto again, except this time the game is at Bethalto.


In 2012, the key for Newton was keeping the score low. In the Eagles' four wins, they held their opponents to an average of 8.5 points per game. The Eagles didn't win a game when their opponent scored more than 13 points.


When the opposition got above that number, the Eagles couldn't get in the win column. Newton's opposition averaged 29.4 points per game in the Eagles' five losses.


With a lot of experience coming back on the front seven, the defense should be stout and the team is putting in the effort on the field to catch Fulton's eye.


"This is a pretty special group, I've been really impressed with their work ethic," he said.


The season opens Friday night at Bethalto, and the Eagles' first home game is Sept. 13 against Flora.


The goal is simple, and Fulton knows what it'll take.


"One more, we would have been (there)," he said. "You've got to believe."