By DANIEL SUDDEATH
NEW ALBANY —
New Albany running back Tuwan Payton performed on another level and nearly rushed for 400 yards Friday against Jennings County, as the Bulldogs opened their Hoosiers Hills Conference schedule with a resounding 55-6 victory over the Panthers at Buerk Field.
The senior running back Payton owned the first half for the Bulldogs, as he ran for 279 yards and five touchdowns on just 8 carries. He dashed for a 28 yard touchdown run to cap a three play scoring drive on New Albany’s first possession of the game.
Payton’s first rush during the Bulldogs second drive — an 11 yard carry that appeared to earn New Albany a first down — was taken back due to a holding call. But that was no problem for Payton, as he was fed the ball on the next play and ran 95 yards for his second touchdown of the game.
During the carry he cut back at midfield to avoid two Panthers defenders and raced another 50 yards to the end zone.
His third score of the first half came with 1:54 left in the second quarter when he scampered 57 yards to pay dirt. It was another incredible run for Payton, as he seemed bottled up near midfield before he faked running to the left, retreated two yards toward the line of scrimmage and then broke to the outside past the Jennings County pursuers to the end zone.
Payton added two more touchdowns late in the first half including a score following a Jennings County turnover. The Panthers coughed up the football on a fumble with less than a minute remaining in the second quarter trailing 28-0. Payton carried the ball on the next play 27 yards up the middle for a score after the Bulldogs line cleared a path for him.
Vincent Falcone’s fifth extra point of the first half put New Albany (2-1,1-0 HHC) on top 35-0 over Jennings County (0-3,0-1) with 33 seconds remaining in the second quarter.
Payton tallied 390 rushing yards on 14 carries with seven touchdowns on Friday.
“He’s unreal. We can’t say enough about him,” Bulldogs coach Charlie Fields said. Payton “will be the first one to tell you if you ask him about the game to say ‘I can’t do this without the offensive line’.”
Jennings County had two long drives in the first half but both failed to produce points for the Panthers. New Albany stopped a fourth down sneak attempt by Jennings County quarterback Conner Byram a yard shy of the first down at the Bulldogs’ eight yard line on the Panthers first drive of the game.
In the second quarter trailing 14-0, the Panthers again failed to convert a fourth down play, as Byram’s pass fell incomplete and the Bulldogs took over possession on their own 34 yard line with 3:23 left to play in the first half.
After New Albany held the Panthers on the first possession of the third quarter, Payton returned to a familiar place for him, the end zone. He carried the ball four times on the Bulldogs initial possession of the second half, and he topped off the drive with a 45 yard touchdown run to put New Albany up 41-0.
Payton scored again on the next Bulldogs drive as he found the end zone after a 33 yard run for his seventh touchdown of the game with 3:26 remaining in the third quarter. It would be his last carry of the game, as Payton was replaced by Falcone with the Bulldogs leading 48-0.
Fields credited his defense for stopping Jennings County and nearly shutting out the Panthers. Jennings County finally broke through with 3:09 left in the fourth quarter when Byram ran around the right edge for a two yard touchdown.
“We’ll always say that defense is portable. We’re going to have to go to some places where you’re going to have to play defense coming off the bus,” Fields said.
Though New Albany opened up a sizable lead on Jennings County before ultimately winning by 49 points, Fields said the young Panthers squad has a lot of potential.
“We were that program two years ago. They’re going to get better,” he said.
Friday’s game was the first Hoosier Hills Conference tilt of the season for both schools. New Albany will travel to Bedford North Lawrence next Friday.
NEW ALBANY 55, JENNINGS COUNTY 6
Jennings County 0 0 0 6— 6
New Albany 14 21 13 7—55
NA — Payton 28 yard run (Falcone kick), 11:07
NA — Payton 95 yard run (Falcone kick), 3:28
NA — Payton 57 yard run (Falcone kick), 1:54
NA — Payton 35 yard run (Falcone kick), 1:17
NA — Payton 27 yard run (Falcone kick), :33
NA — Payton 45 yard run (Falcone kick), 5:04
NA — Payton 33 yard run (Falcone kick), 3:26
NA — Falcone 4 yard run (Falcone kick), 11:55
JC — Byram 2 yard run (conversion failed), 3:09
Jennings County: Byram 8-22-89.
New Albany: Donan 2-3-22.
Jennings County: Bott 21-78, Teltow 17-70, Nixon 1-1, Byram 3-minus 6-1.
New Albany: Payton 14-390, Craig 4-30, Falcone 3-21, Wright 3-11, Donan 2-5, White 1-3.
Jennings County: Beineke 4-38, Bott 2-36, Nixon 1-7, Gerkin 1-7.
New Albany: Jones 1-13, Wright 1-9.