AKRON - Newell-Fonda mentor Brian Wilken and Akron-Westfield coach Graham Lundt probably felt that they were looking across the line of scrimmage into a mirror.
Wilken hails from the Akron area, and Lundt attended Buena Vista University and assistant coached for Wilken last year. Their playbooks are similar.
The result was a hard-fought 19-13 win for the District champion Westerners on their home field Wednesday night in a game that saw most of its offensive output in the first half and some exceptional defensive stands in the second.
"We gave up three big plays - two long runs by their quarterback and a long punt return that set up all their scores. That made the difference," Wilken said. "Aside from three plays, our defense was exceptional."
Prolific senior running back Josh Hopper paced Newell-Fonda early, after the defense forced a three-and-out from A-W's first drive. Hopper carried the ball for 74 yards in the 80-yard opening Mustang drive, but a fourth-down pass into the end zone slipped off Cody Wells' hands. A-W took over on downs, but N-F's fired-up defense forced a punt that didn't reach midfield. The normally run-oriented Mustangs again went to the pass on fourth down, starting the second quarter with a Jack Reis 20-yard touchdown strike to Hopper posted up in the corner of the end zone. Wells kicked the extra point.
The Westerners answered immediately, with quarterback Eric Eskra scampering 67 yards down the right sideline on the first play from scrimmage to make it 7-7.
Eskra, who accounted for nearly all of the A-W offense in the half, struck again a few minutes later, with a 50-yard run to set up a three-yard QB sneak for a score. Eskra missed the extra-point kick.
Late in the half, Newell-Fonda gambled again on a fourth down from the Westerner five yard line, Reis hitting Alex Da Silva with 12 seconds remaining. Wells pushed the kick wide right, leaving the game tied 13-13 at the half.
After a Newell-Fonda punt on their first possession of the second half, Akron's Christopher Carlson cut back right and rambled 67 yards for a TD return as A-W went up 19-13.
The teams exchanged punts with the defenses dominating most of the remainder of the game. A promising Mustang drive in the third quarter ended with a interception that the taller Carlson snatched away from Da Silva, but A-W could do nothing with the opportunity.
N-F mounted a threat late, with Hopper making a diving catch for 20 yards near midfield with three minutes remaining, but a holding penalty backed them up, and the drive ended with a Reis pass just grazing Hopper's fingertips.
N-F brought all they had on defense, Reis making a big tackle on third down to force A-W to punt, but the Mustangs' hopes ended as they suffered a sack on fourth down with a minute to play, turning over the ball and allowing Akron-Westfield to run out the clock.
Hopper finishes the night with 140 yards and more than 1,150 for the season, with 16 touchdowns.
N-F outrushed A-W 186 yards to 165, and outpassed them 109 to 11, Reis completing on nine of 11 attempts while Eskra hit only two passes.
Jack Reis, Parker Wells and Cody Wells each had seven solo tackles.
The top-seeded Westerners advance to face Alta Monday in the opening round of the playoffs, riding a nine-game win streak, in a rematch of the district clincher last week.
Newell-Fonda finished 5-5 after a torrid 4-0 start including wins over a couple of 2A schools. All of their losses came to qualifiers in the newly-expanded playoffs field.
Nine Mustangs ended their high school careers. "Our seniors are always the heart and soul of this program," Wilken said. "This team has been a special group of young men. We also have to thank our fans. Newell-Fonda always has terrific support, and I can't even say how much we appreciate it."