The vast majority of Section II football teams won’t complete 22 passes in a single game. There are a handful that won’t attempt 22 passes in a single season.
So, to say Amsterdam senior wide receiver Josiah Newborn was in uncharted territory during last Friday’s game against Averill Park — not just within Section II, but in New York state high school football history — is a bit of an understatement.
After struggling to run the ball in the team’s first two games, Amsterdam turned to a short, efficient passing attack to move the ball — which, for the Rams, meant a heavy dose of quarterback Tommy Ziskin getting the ball to Newborn.
A really, really heavy dose — 22 catches, shattering the previous single-game New York State Public High School Athletic Association by four.
“They were right in rhythm,” Amsterdam coach John Homich said. “He [Newborn] was hungry, so we just kept feeding him.”
Newborn knew he’d had a busy night, but the 5-foot-9 receiver certainly wasn’t keeping track of his number of receptions — nor was he aware of the state record.
“I didn’t really pay attention to how many catches I had in the game,” Newborn said. “Coach [Homich] called me the morning after the game and told me that.”
The previous NYSPHSAA record of 18 also had a tangential connection to Amsterdam, as it was reached by Our Lady of Lourdes’ Luke Timm against Buffalo South Park in the 2015 Class A state championship game — one week after Our Lady of Lourdes had beaten Amsterdam in the state semifinals.
Newborn’s record night was the product of a couple different factors.
First was the wild, see-saw nature of what ended up as the wildest game played in Section II thus far in the “Fall II” football season. Amsterdam and Averill Park, as has been the habit between the two teams during the last decade, lit up the scoreboard in a back-and-forth game that saw Averill Park stop a last-second two-point conversion attempt from the Rams to finish off a 41-40 win.
Second was a shift in Amsterdam’s offensive philosophy, as the team abandoned even the pretense of a run game for long stretches, spreading the field with five receivers and using quick passes to Newborn to move the chains.
There weren’t a ton of explosive plays on Newborn’s highlight reel — his 22 catches totaled 143 yards, with the longest being a 21-yard touchdown at the end of the first half — but the senior caught everything in his path as he continued to find ways to get open against Averill Park’s secondary.
“I never think, ‘Wow, I’m getting the ball a lot,’” Newborn said. “I just play the game. Whatever I have to do to win, whether that’s me getting 30 catches or three catches.”
While the end result was a tough loss, brought on largely by explosive plays on kickoff returns from Averill Park — including Ben Ferlito’s eventual game-winning touchdown in the final two minutes — Newborn said the week leading up to the game seemed to be something of a turning point for Amsterdam (0-3) after the Rams struggled in back-to-back games against Troy and La Salle.
“The first two weeks were definitely not how we are supposed to play football,” he said. “But we had a good week of practice Monday through Thursday [before the Averill Park game]. It was a good, full week of practice, and then we came out and had the best game of our season. Even though it was a loss, it was the best game we’ve played.”
That momentum, Newborn said, has carried through to this week as the Rams prepare to visit Ballston Spa (1-2) on Friday night at 7.
Newborn’s best game as a receiver in 2019 came against Ballston Spa, when the then-junior hauled in five passes for 109 yards — including an 80-yard touchdown — in the Rams’ 35-12 loss to the Scotties in the Section II Class A quarterfinals.
That game, coupled with last week’s record-shattering performance, are sure to result in a little extra attention being paid his way by the Ballston Spa defense.
And that’s just fine with him.
“Double-teams are what I prepare for,” Newborn said. “That’s what I want. If you double-team me, that’s what I’m looking for.
“If I’m not getting double-teamed, then I’m not doing my job.”