STERLING – On a night when Newman’s normally potent rushing attack was ground to a halt by Princeton, it was up to the defense and special teams to deliver.
Newman forced five turnovers, four of which led to scores, and led to a 25-21 victory on Saturday night at Roscoe Eades Stadium in a Three Rivers Conference crossover. The Comets had to overcome a 21-10 halftime deficit to eke out the win.
“Princeton, you could tell they came ready to play, and we didn’t come ready to play in the beginning,” Newman’s Connor McBride said. “We showed our resilience. … Our defense really picked us up, and when we’d get a stop, it really fired us up. Our defense led to our offense tonight.”
The loss was especially disappointing for the Tigers after leading 21-10 at halftime.
“We fought as hard we could,” PHS junior Ronde Worrels, who scored two touchdowns, said. We lost to these guys the last two years. we wanted to win. We wanted to get these guys this time.”
“We kept fighting. I’m proud of my guys to keep fighting. We faced some adversary and stood tall,” junior lineman Grant Foes said.
The Comets were held to 77 rushing yards on 37 rushing attempts, but made up for that lack of production with an opportunistic defense, zero turnovers, one big special teams play, and just enough offense.
Princeton marched 76 yards in eight plays on the game’s opening possession to seize a 7-0 lead, and Newman had a pair of 3-and-outs to begin the game.
The tide shifted a bit, however, when Newman sophomore linebacker Ethan Van Landuit. intercepted a pass by the Tigers’ Tyler Gibson and returned it 50 yards to the Princeton 9 and set up a short TD run by Kye O’Brien.
“Right before the play, my head coach (Brandon Kreczmer) told me to drop back into coverage, and I did what he said,” Van Landuit said. “It turned out good.”
Princeton responded quickly. Wyatt Davis turned a short completion from Gibson into a 72-yard touchdown, and the Tigers were back up 14-7 early in the second quarter.
On Princeton’s next possession, a fumble by Ethan Wright was pounced on by the Comets’ Daniel Feltes. It set up a 32-yard field goal by Nate Ahlers, who had been wide right on a 35-yarder on Newman’s previous possession.
Gibson moved his team 80 yards in seven plays, with the final 40 covered on a TD pass to running back Ronde Worrels a mere 5.3 seconds before halftime. The play was indicative of the Comets’ overall play, according to Kreczmer.
“The message at halftime was just settle in, control what we can control, do what you’ve been coached to do, give 100 percent effort, and everything else will take care of itself,” Kreczmer said.
It was the defense that got Newman going. Midway through the third quarter, safety Andrew Wilson snagged an errant Gibson pass to put his team in business near midfield. Nine plays later, O’Brien crashed in from the 1-yard line to make it 21-16, and he added a 2-point conversion run to draw the Comets to within 21-18.
Princeton was forced to pun on its next possession, but Gibson, the Tigers’ punter, bobbled the snap, and he was soon buried by Van Landuit.
“I was rushing right away,” Van Landuit said, “and when I saw him drop it, I was going full speed. I wasn’t laying back.”
The Comets then pieced together a nine-play, 42-yard drive for the go-ahead score with 6:42 to play. It was capped by a 13-yard pass from quarterback Jacob Ackman to McBride, who was wide open in the left flat after some effective faking.
“I think we had some momentum there, and the kids just made an outstanding play,” Kreczmer said. “That was all on Connor. We didn’t really even have that in the playbook. Connor came to the sidelines and was like, ‘I think this will work,’ and it did. That’s just the type of kid Connor is. He’s got a very high football IQ. He saw it, I said let’s go for it, and it worked out.”
The Tigers (1-1) had 260 yards of total offense in the first half, but just 44 in the second half. Worrels and Davis, the team’s top two weapons, had just five touches after halftime.
“It wasn’t just the second half – we had too many mistakes overall,” Princeton coach Ryan Pearson said. “You can’t have five turnovers and a muffed punt and the penalties that we had and expect to beat a good football team. Good football teams are going to capitalize on that, and obviously Newman did.”