Red Hill would rue the day they faced one Ben Meinhart.
The standout senior made back-to-back interceptions that led to two Newton touchdowns in the Eagles’ 32-8 win over the Salukis Saturday afternoon.
However, Meinhart didn’t stop at his two picks. He added a fumble while also helping contain a well-balanced wishbone attack from Red Hill, too.
“I’m proud of our offense and defense today,” Newton head coach Jason Fulton said. “We needed a good spark offensively, and we got it. We had one bad play defensively, and that was early on the pass play. It was a complete miscommunication of pass coverage. Other than that, I thought we played well. The offense they run, they’re going to get some yardage here and there running the wishbone and the option, but for the most part, we took care of business.”
Even with the defense playing as well as it did, the start of the game wasn’t necessarily what Fulton planned.
Salukis’ quarterback Andrew Maxfield tossed a 68-yard pass to Anthony Jerrell on their first drive, setting up a six-yard touchdown run to make it 6-0 before the two-point conversion was successful. Maxfield finished the day 4-for 11 for 121 yards.
“I think they did what we thought they were going to do. Other than that pass play, I thought we’d be off the field on third down if we don’t give up that pass play,” Fulton said. “I think, offensively, we struggled to get going and shot ourselves in the foot a couple of times on fourth down plays and missed some blocks where we should have picked up some yardage.”
Following the touchdown, the Red Hill defense provided a spark, as it stymied Newton on its first drive, leading to a punt.
It didn’t get much better for the Eagles after that, though, as punter Frank Cuccinella called for the snap. However, the ball sailed over his head, leading to Jerrell recovering it and returning to the Newton 23-yard line, and shifting momentum, once again, in the process.
After a rough offensive drive, the Eagles did catch a break, as Red Hill was hit with a holding call, forcing the Salukis to punt.
With a fresh drive in front of them, Newton corrected what it did wrong to open the game, to the tune of an 86-yard drive, guided by freshman signal-caller Lain Burgener, which ended with an eight-yard touchdown pass to Meinhart — who finished with eight receptions for 100 yards.
Then, on the ensuing Red Hill drive, the Eagles’ defense came through again, behind Meinhart’s first pick.
On third-and-seven, Maxfield threw to the short side of the field. Waiting for him, though, was Meinhart, who stepped in front of a Salukis’ receiver and ran it to the 44 before Maxfield tackled him.
“I wouldn’t throw to (Ben) Meinhart’s side too much,” Fulton chuckled.
Confident after the interception, Newton carried that over into their next drive, which saw them take the lead.
After a first down, the Salukis pushed the Eagles to third-and-13, where Isaac Flowers took off for a 10-yard gain, setting up a fourth-and-short situation. Flowers finished with 18 carries for 73 yards.
Keeping his offense on the field, Fulton pushed all the correct buttons, as Newton not only got the first down but scored. Meyer Tarr sped into the endzone from 26 yards out, giving the Eagles a 12-8 lead — one that they never gave up and one that continued to grow after halftime.
Despite starting the second half on defense, it wouldn’t take Newton long to regain possession, though.
On Red Hill’s first play after the kickoff, Meinhart struck again, intercepting Maxfield and returning it to the 12-yard line.
From there, Burgener did the rest, as he found an open Meinhart for a score, to make it 19-8 after the successful point-after. Burgener finished 14-for-22 for 141 yards.
“I think we came out a little flat (in the first half),” Meinhart said. “The second half, we took some hits and fired back and came out to play. I mean, teams are going to try to put the ball in the hands of their best players hands. I always try to stay ready. I was just happy they did go my way.”
Newton tacked on another touchdown by Mason Mulvey and a four-yard rumble by fullback Dominik Utley in the fourth, as well.
The Eagles return to the field on Friday night, when they host Robinson.