STERLING – One big drive and one big play came up really big for the Newman Comets.
After losses to Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley in the 2017 semifinal and 2018 quarterfinal, Newman ended the reign of the two-time defending state champion by beating the Falcons 21-6 on Saturday at Roscoe Eades Stadium.
The big play came late in the second quarter from Connor McBride. After GCMS scored to cut the deficit to 14-6, McBride fielded the ensuing kickoff and went 88 yards untouched for an answering score.
“It was really everybody else,” McBride said. “Everybody got their blocks. We’ve been practicing throughout the week. Everybody got their blocks held and after that it was just a wide-open hole.”
The big drive came in, and took up basically all of, the fourth quarter.
The Falcons had reached the Newman 28 on the first play of the fourth quarter to gain a first down, but a holding call wiped out the following play and pushed them back. The Falcons soon faced a fourth down at the Newman 37 after three incomplete passes, the third nearly picked off by Nate Ahlers as GCMS quarterback Cade Elliott ran back-and-forth through the backfield to escape Hunter Buser’s pass rush. GCMS elected to punt to pin Newman back, and did just that as the Comets took over at their own 4-yard line with 10:33 left in the game.
GCMS never touched the ball again.
“That’s Blue Machine football,” Newman coach Brandon Kreczmer said. “They didn’t touch the ball in the fourth quarter. That’s outstanding. That’s our offensive line, our backs blocking for 4 seconds, and having faith in what we do.”
Newman went 93 yards in 17 plays, with Velasquez going off right tackle on the first play of the drive for a first down out to the 17. He and Kye O’Brien alternated carries on the next nine plays to get the ball to the Falcons’ 29 with 4:19 when GCMS started to burn timeouts.
A couple of runs were stopped for no gain, leading to a fourth-and-3 when the Comets tried to connect on a halfback pass from Velasquez. It fell incomplete, but a pass interference call gave Newman a first down.
The Comets were able to get another first down at the GCMS 1 moments later before going into victory formation and taking a knee.
“They stacked a bunch of guys on the line, so our line just had to block for 4 seconds, and and once we were past the first line, we were gone,” Velasquez said.
Newman opened the scoring after Brett Newman recovered a fumble at the GCMS 20 on the first play of the game.
“[GCMS fullback Payton Kean] came around the line, my linemen did all the job, they stripped it for me, and I just cleaned it up, saw the ball and I got it as fast as I could,” Newman said.
O’Brien scored five plays later.
The Comets also had an 11-play, 80-yard drive in the second quarter capped by a 3-yard touchdown run by Velasquez.
The Falcons (9-2) managed 140 rushing yards, with Aidan Laughery accounting for 104 of those. He rushed 10 times for 59 yards on the Falcons’ lone scoring drive, including a 13-yard burst up the middle for the score.
“We just were running sweeps to get to the outside, and our guys were doing a great job blocking,” GCMS coach Mike Allen said. “We overloaded our left side and kept attacking that side.”
But the Falcons were hampered with bad field position all night. Over their first six drives, the Falcons' average starting field position was their own 11. The final GCMS drive started at the Newman 44 after Elliott intercepted a pass along the sideline, but gained just 7 yards in six plays.
The Comets are in the quarterfinal for the fourth year in a row, but have also handed the Falcons their first postseason defeat since the second round of the 2016 playoffs. The 11-game postseason winning streak GCMS rode to a pair of state titles included two wins over the Comets.
“We had a meeting [Saturday] afternoon talking about all the players the past 2 years, keeping them in our hearts and in our minds,” McBride said. “We preached at halftime to continue to grind it out, and we did, we pulled out the win.”
2A playoffs, second round
Newman 21, GCMS 6
Star of the game: Andrew Velasquez, Newman, 19 carries, 118 yards, 1 TD
Quote: “We kind of just went back to our roots with Blue Machine football. Just running the ball, doing what we did best to get us here. Just keep it simple, don’t change anything.” Newman left guard John Simpson