Football: Resilience led New Albany Eagles past early adversity
New Albany football coach Bubba Kidwell recently recalled the uncertainty that surrounded the season in late July and early August, when the district temporarily suspended all athletic activities amid the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.
The shutdown delayed the start of two-a-days and, for a time, called the beginning of the season into question.
“We missed a week of two-a-days. There was so much going on leading up to that. All the pressure was to get to that first game,” Kidwell said. “I’m proud of how we remained positive and focused.”
Kidwell could say the same for his team when it came to the Division I, Region 3 playoffs, as the 10th-seeded Eagles overcame consecutive lopsided losses to end the regular season to advance to a regional semifinal.
New Albany finished 5-4 overall and 2-3 in the OCC-Ohio Division, losing 50-7 at third-seeded Westerville Central in a semifinal Oct. 23.
“We played nine games and almost half of them (four) were against Pickerington North and Westerville Central, top-10 teams in the area and two of the better programs in the state,” Kidwell said. “Once we got to the playoffs, everyone just reset. You’re 0-0 at that point. We played very well. We learned from the adversity.”
Senior running back Jayden Fudge rushed for 864 yards and 11 touchdowns on 154 carries, senior quarterback Brock Tibbitts completed 74 of 115 passes for 892 yards with 10 touchdowns and six interceptions and junior running back Brock Kidwell added 85 carries for 449 yards and four touchdowns to pace the offense.
The anticipated leader of the ground game, senior running back Mechi McCaulley, suffered a broken collarbone early in a 20-13 opening win over Lancaster on Aug. 28 and missed the regular season. He returned and saw limited time in a 34-3 win at seventh-seeded Westerville North in the first round of the playoffs Oct. 9 but was re-injured and did not play again.
Junior running back Jadyn Garnes rushed for 318 yards and a touchdown on 54 carries.
One of the biggest questions facing the Eagles heading into next season will be at quarterback.
“We asked a lot of Brock, probably more than we’ve asked of our quarterbacks recently, but he was just capable and efficient completing passes,” coach Kidwell said of Tibbitts, who is an Indiana baseball commit. “Go back to a guy like (2013 graduate) Darron Lee (who went on to play at Ohio State and in the NFL), we relied on him more to make plays with his feet. Brock can run, but we can trust him passing as well.”
According to coach Kidwell, Brock Kidwell, classmate Jack Vannoy and sophomore Luka Garver are early candidates to succeed Tibbitts.
The top five receivers graduate, led by Owen Wilcox (29 catches, 439 yards, four touchdowns) and Andrew Clouse (19 catches, 174 yards, three TDs).
Brock Kidwell led the defense with 82 tackles, including 26 solo.
New Albany followed up its win in the opener by defeating visiting Grove City 23-7 on Sept. 4. The Eagles lost 42-41 in overtime at Gahanna on Sept. 11 and shut out visiting Westland 49-0 on Sept. 18 before hitting their roughest patch of the season, falling 56-21 to Pickerington North on Sept. 25 and 42-7 at Central a week later to close the regular season.
The win at Westerville North was New Albany’s first Division I playoff win.
The victory was noteworthy as well, as the Eagles beat host and second-seeded Pickerington North 44-20 in a regional quarterfinal Oct. 16, outscoring the Panthers 27-0 in the second half.
Other players eligible to return include juniors Caden Britton (OL/DL/LS), Jesse Gordon (RB/DB) and Ryan Schmidt (DB) and sophomore Tom Bohman (OL/DL/LS).
“I can’t say enough about the resilience of these players,” coach Kidwell said. “We made a huge jump as a program this year, going into a new league and getting the wins we did. The guys were up to the challenge.”
•Record: 5-4 overall
•OCC-Ohio standings: Pickerington North (5-0), Westerville Central (4-1), Gahanna (3-2), New Albany (2-3), Grove City (1-4), Westland (0-5)
•Seniors lost: Kole Clay, Andrew Clouse, Ryan Cook, Jack Daly, Braedon Elwer, Jayden Fudge, Krishna Gopinath, Peyton Henze, Ian Hoff, Colin Johnson, Shance LeBlanc, Mechi McCaulley, Joey Schockman, Parker Smith, Chase Speert, Ben Stall, Brock Tibbitts, Tyler VanMeter, Jaron Webster, Hayden Wendt and Owen Wilcox
•Key returnees: Tom Bohman, Jadyn Garnes, Jesse Gordon, Brock Kidwell and Jack Vannoy