Newman's Nate Ahlers kicks the bal during the fourth quarter of the 2017 Class 2A semifinal playoff game in Gibson City.
Newman's Nate Ahlers kicks the bal during the fourth quarter of the 2017 Class 2A semifinal playoff game in Gibson City. — Michael Krabbenhoeft/mkrabbenhoeft@saukvalley.com

For two teams that are not even in the same conference, Newman and Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley seem to play each other quite a bit.

Saturday, when the two teams square off in a second-round playoff game at Roscoe Eades Stadium, marks the third meeting between the two in as many years.

“We have experience [facing them] from last year, so we’re expecting what we’ve seen the last 2 years,” Newman’s Nate Ahlers said. “They’re a team that comes out with a lot of energy and a lot of power. We definitely have to match that intensity from the get-go.”

GCMS won the Class 2A state title in 2017, with a semifinal win over Newman along the way, and won its second straight title last year after beating Newman in the quarterfinals.

But those Falcons were a veteran bunch, with seven seniors starting on offense in last year’s state title game and nine seniors starting on defense. The Falcons got 1,677 rushing yards and 34 touchdowns from Jared Trantina and 1,262 passing yards from Nathan Garard. Both have graduated.

“They’ve kind of simplified a lot of things,” Newman coach Brandon Kreczmer said. “I think they’re a little bit younger than they have been in the past, but they’ve still got really good running backs.”

This year, the Falcons' rushing attack is led by Aidan Laughery, who has 1,178 yards on 153 carries and 21 touchdowns.

But he is far from the only option in the rushing attack at GCMS. Payton Kean has 97 carries for 574 yards, and Isaiah Chatman has 63 carries for 425 yards.

“Their fullback [Kean] is really good, too. He’s kind of the power back that they’ve had the past couple of years,” Kreczmer said.

The Falcons average 30.7 points per game, and have topped the 40-point mark three times this year – in a Week 5 win over the Fisher Bunnies, a Week 7 win over LeRoy, and last week against Rushville-Industry in the first round of the 2A playoffs.

“They run the same general offense, but they’ve had some personnel changes,” Ahlers said. “In years past, their main back has been a power runner, where this year they have a really big trackster. Not as big and strong this year, but focused more on speed. So we noticed that they run outside more.”

But since a Week 4 loss to unbeaten Fieldcrest, it’s been the Falcons defense really stepping up. GCMS has allowed seven total points in its past six games, a touchdown Tri-Valley scored Week 6. The Falcons’ other five games in that span – wins over Fisher, LeRoy, El Paso-Gridley, Deer Creek-Mackinaw and Rushville-Industry – have all been shutouts.

“Their line causes a lot of havoc,” Newman running back Connor McBride said. “They’re strong up front, and so are their linebackers. They possess a lot of strength to be able to stop the run. Cornerback-wise they have a lot of speed on the outside. They’re able to make open-field tackles, and nobody really gets behind them.”

It’s been defense at the forefront of the past two Newman-GCMS games. In 2017 on a muddy field in Gibson City, the two teams combined for 330 yards and 21 first downs in a 14-8 Falcons win, with then-GCMS running back Mitch McNutt gaining 108 of those yards, including a touchdown with 9:29 left in the game to put the Falcons ahead for good.

When the teams met again 51 weeks later, GCMS gained 179 total yards in a 27-12 win over the Comets at Roscoe Eades Stadium.

“They’ve been close games, so I would say it’s become a bit of a rivalry,” Kreczmer said. “They’re a great program. I’ve gotten to know Coach [Mike] Allen playing them the last 2 years and talking to him at coaching clinics. He’s a great coach, but an even better person.”

Newman gained 254 total yards in that game, but also fumbled four times and threw two interceptions.

“We’ve got to learn from our mistakes last year, and hopefully improve,” McBride said.

Football

2A playoffs, second round

GCMS at Newman

When: 6 p.m. Saturday

Where: Roscoe Eades Stadium

Radio: 102.7 FM

Twitter: @Eric_Ingles