SU Football Notebook: Newton, finally healthy, enjoys record-setting kicking peformance vs. E&H

Shenandoah University's Jacob Newton attempts a field goal against Emory & Henry on Saturday in Winchester. Newton made a school-record four field goals in the Hornets' 47-24 win. Photo courtesy of Shenandoah University

WINCHESTER – Shenandoah University kicker Jacob Newton spent much of the previous two football seasons battling a series of complications stemming from a torn ACL suffered late in his freshman year in 2014. If there were still any lingering doubts about the senior’s return to form in 2017, Newton quelled those on Saturday afternoon.

Newton set a new school record with four field goals in the Hornets’ 47-24 win over Emory & Henry, hitting kicks of 31, 30, 32 and 25 yards on a perfect afternoon in which he also connected on all five of his extra-point attempts.

Newton’s 17 points against the Wasps also is the best single-game total by a Shenandoah kicker.

“It just felt good to be good again,” Newton said with a laugh on Wednesday afternoon.

Newton’s journey at SU has been a seesaw experience. He emerged as a solid special teams weapon as a freshman, hitting 12 of 14 field goals and earning second team All-Old Dominion Athletic Conference honors following the season.

Jack Newton

Late that season, however, he suffered a partially torn ACL in his right knee – the plant leg for the left-footed kicker – though Newton said the injury somehow went undiscovered in an MRI.

Newton fully tore the ACL in the second game of his sophomore season, he said, and yet still made two more trips to the doctor before the full extent of the injury came to light.

Newton underwent surgery, returned for his junior season in 2016 but still had complications with swelling in his knee. That turned out to be the result of a cyclops lesion (also called localized anterior anthrofibrosis), which Newton described as a “ball of scar tissue) that formed as a result of the ACL reconstruction surgery, which inhibited the bending of his knee. Next came another surgery last January.

Over the course of his sophomore and junior seasons, Newton appeared in 12 games and hit just 4 of 9 field goals (he attempted, and made, only one field as a junior last season).

Newton wasn’t fully cleared to return to kicking activities until late July – right before the start of SU’s preseason camp, he said – leaving him to battle it out with freshman Hunter Youngblood for the starting spot in the preseason as the question marks surrounding his health remained.

“The difference between me and Hunter is he’s still young and he has a good knee, so he can go out there and kick 75, 100 balls every day. Getting older and with the knee problems, I really have to make mine count,” Newton said. “I can probably only go out there and kick 20, 25 balls a day, max, without making my knee swell up really bad. So I really have to focus making mine count and my reps with the team really count because I don’t get a ton of actual hitting-the-ball practice. I have to do a lot of film watching and mental reps, stuff like that.”

Newton eventually reclaimed the starting job and has rewarded the Hornets by hitting 7 of 8 field goals (long of 32 yards) and 26 of 27 extra points through the first five games of 2017. His lone missed field goal came on a 34-yarder against Randolph-Macon on Sept. 28, and he’s hit 17 straight PATs since misfiring on his fourth attempt in the season opener against Gallaudet.

Newton, who said his knee is “doing the best” it’s done since his freshman season, said he knew he was back when he hit all seven of his extra-point attempts in a Week 2 win at North Carolina Wesleyan.

“When we played that game, it was just PATs that I was hitting and I felt consistent. I felt like I was strong when I was coming down towards the ball,” Newton said. “I was like, ‘Wow, I think I really might make it through this season,’ and it felt pretty good.”

TIMELY DEFENSE: The Hornets’ offense has stolen the show so far in 2017, but SU’s defense has quietly pieced together a pair of key performances in back-to-back ODAC victories.

The yardage isn’t great – Shenandoah ranks last in total defense (452.6 yards allowed per game) and rush defense (234.6 ypg) – but the Hornets have made the stops down the stretch when they need to. In Saturday’s win over E&H, the Hornets delivered six straight defensive stands to close out the win (forcing two punts, two turnovers and two failed fourth-down conversions) after the Wasps scored a pair of quick third-quarter touchdowns to pull within a field goal.

“The run game, we’re still figuring it out,” Hornets senior defensive end Tom Whalen said. “We’ve gotta make tackles. Watching film, we missed a ton of tackles we’ve gotta make for (loss). But yeah, our secondary’s playing great. … If we keep taking the ball away the offense is gonna put the ball away for us. That’s been our mentality.”

In a way, Shenandoah’s high-octane offense has hurt its own defense – head coach Scott Yoder said on Wednesday, “First one to 50 (points) doesn’t help our defense.” But senior cornerback Weldon Gilchrist Jr. said that the Hornets’ defense is feeding off the energy of the offense.

That opposing teams have been chasing Shenandoah on the scoreboard more often that not – allowing the Hornets to be more aggressive on defense – hasn’t hurt either, and SU is having success in a style of play that puts a premium on big plays from their defense, which includes sacks, turnovers and timely stops.

Through five games, Shenandoah leads the ODAC in takeaways (17) and interceptions (11) and is second in sacks (13). Nine of the Hornets’ takeaways have come in the second half this season, including six over the last two games. SU had three interceptions in the final six minutes in a win over Macon two weeks ago.

PLAYER OF THE WEEK (AGAIN): SU quarterback Hayden Bauserman was named the ODAC Offensive Player of the Week for the second straight week after completing a school-record 40 passes on 61 attempts for 495 yards, five touchdowns and no interceptions.

Bauserman, a junior, leads NCAA Division III in passing yards (2,085) and is second in passing touchdowns (24) this season.

INJURY REPORT: Yoder said freshman safety Daquan Pridget should return to action this weekend against Bridgewater after some swelling late last week prevented his return from a knee injury against Emory & Henry.

Yoder added that running back Mario Wisdom has returned to practice after suffering an ankle injury in the first half against Randolph-Macon.