And you thought Newman liked to run the football.
When the Comets venture to Knoxville on Saturday for a Class 2A playoff quarterfinal, they’ll be taking on a team that is even more fond of ground-and-pound than they are.
“It’s kind of like looking in the mirror,” Newman coach Brandon Kreczmer said. “They’re very similar to us. They’re not going to run wishbone, but they’ll run some double-wing and power-wing sets. They’re big. They’re physical. They play hard. That’s what you expect at a quarterfinal game. Again, they’ve got really big linemen, bigger than us, but most teams are.”
Leading the way is the backfield of seniors Zach Dean and Jimmy Upson, and sophomore Kellen McClay. Dean has 151 carries for 1,346 yards and 24 touchdowns, and he’s capably backed by Upson (135-1,086, 19 TDs) and McClay (73-646, 8 TDs).
“They’ve got three really good backs,” Kreczmer said. “They’re young, but they’re good. Their fullback [Dean] is probably who they want to get it to the most. You can’t really just key on one of their backs. You’ve got to make sure you know where they’re all at.”
The quarterback is Bryar Fleisher, a sophomore who has completed 8 of 19 passes for 178 yards, with two touchdowns and one interception. The top receiver is Ryan Sunderland, a running back with six catches for 126 yards and two scores.
Kreczmer noted his defense will be on the lookout should Knoxville decide to air it out.
“Again, they’re similar to us,” Kreczmer said. “They’re going to use the run to set up play-action passes.”
The Blue Bullets (11-0) won the Prairieland Conference's Black division this season, and have outscored opponents 473-84 thus far. Knoxville dug itself a 14-0 hole last week against Watseka before scoring 20 unanswered to pull out a 20-14 victory. Upson rushed for 95 yards and a touchdown, and also threw a 10-yard TD pass to Sunderland, to key the win. Dean added 88 yards rushing and a TD.
Eighth-year head coach Ryan Hebard is 54-27 in his career at Knoxville, and this is the seventh year in a row the Blue Bullets are in the playoffs. This marks their deepest run in the postseason under Hebard.
Newman (10-1), meanwhile, will look to keep hammering away with its running game that features Andrew Velasquez (140-774, 5 TDs), Connor McBride (125-685, 7 TDs) and Kye O’Brien (119-599, 12 TDs).
Jake Ackman has completed 43 of 78 passes for 666 yards and seven TDs, with five interceptions. His top targets are Andrew Wilson (18-269, 4 TDs) and McBride (14-235, 4 TDs).
Wilson noted it won’t necessarily be how many catches he and his teammates haul in, as far as the key to success.
“Us and them, we both like to play physical,” Wilson said, “so it’s going to be who can control the line of scrimmage and stop the other team up front.”
Newman is coming off a satisfying 21-6 victory against Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley in the second round of the playoffs that helped take away some of the sting from losses to the Falcons the past two postseasons.
“It was awesome, but we can’t settle for that,” senior lineman Riley Wescott said. “We’re not satisfied. We’ve got to move ahead 1 week at a time, but it was a good win.”
“We played for the last two teams, and it was nice to beat them,” Kreczmer added. “They’re a great program, and I respect Coach [Mike] Allen a lot. I told the kids Monday, ‘If that was your goal, to just beat Gibson, then go to the basketball court or go to the wrestling room or go start lifting, because that’s not our end goal.’ We enjoyed it [Saturday] night and on Sunday, but Monday we had to get back to work and get ready for Knoxville.”
Class 2A playoffs, quarterfinal
Newman at Knoxville
When: 1 p.m. Saturday
Where: Dennis Larson Field
Radio: 102.7 FM