KNOXVILLE – Newman winning a quarterfinal playoff football game really isn’t that unusual.
It’s how the Comets achieved that feat in Saturday’s 28-0 blanking of Knoxville that raised a few eyebrows. Newman’s customary effective ground attack was accompanied by a quick-strike passing game that put the Blue Bullets in a hole they never got out of.
On a third-and-11 from their own 41, the Comets put up a touchdown on their third play from scrimmage. Junior quarterback Jake Ackman lofted a long pass that hit senior Connor McBride in stride, and he cruised in with a 59-yard touchdown.
“Knoxville is a great defense,” Ackman said. “They come hard, they hit hard, so we knew that sometimes their safeties might come up a little because they expect the run. Coach called a great play, and Connor executed. I just had to make the throw.”
It was more of the same on the Comets’ second possession. On a second-and-10 play from the Knoxville 29, tight end Andrew Wilson got behind the Blue Bullets’ secondary for touchdown No. 2, and Newman was up 14-0 with 2:22 left in the first quarter.
“Andrew ran an amazing route,” Ackman said. “He fooled the safety, and great blocking by my line led to most of it.”
Ackman was an efficient 4-for-6 passing for 157 yards and two TDs, with one interception. It complemented a ground game that churned out 209 yards in 41 carries.
“We’ve had long drives in all of our playoff games,” McBride said, ‘but we really pride ourselves in being able to throw the ball. It makes the defense focus on the run and pass, and that helps our offense a lot.”
Newman coach Brandon Kreczmer noted the down and distance on both touchdown passes dictated that he loosen up his play-calling a bit, but it worked out.
“We were kind to forced throw, but obviously we executed that well,” Kreczmer said. “After that first one, we kind of were like, ‘All right, let’s see if we can do it again.’ Hat’s off to Jake, and the line for giving him enough time to throw. It worked out for us.”
Knoxville coach Ryan Hebard noted the two long TD passes caught his defense off-guard a bit.
“Those were great calls by them,” Hebard said. “They put two over the top on us. They scored once on the ground, but they snuck two bombs in on us. Our defensive backs were flat-footed, and they didn’t know what the [heck] was going on. [McBride] got one and [Wilson] got one. That’s who we told the guys they had to stop. It was just 16-, 17-year-old kid mistakes.”
Newman (11-1) essentially put the game on ice with two long second-half drives. The first ate nearly 8 minutes off the clock in the third quarter, but did not result in any points.
The second used up 6 minutes in the fourth quarter and was capped by an 8-yard run by McBride, who had also scored the team’s third TD on a 26-yard run with 7:53 left in the second quarter.
Andrew Velasquez had 17 carries for 104 yards to pace the Newman ground attack. McBride finished with 55 yards on 13 carries, while Kye O’Brien added 50 yards on 11 attempts.
Knoxville (11-1) was a run-heavy team all season, but had trouble getting much going after an initial run of 24 yards by sophomore halfback Kellen McClay. The Blue Bullets finished with 37 attempts for 156 yards.
Through 11 games, senior fullback Zack Dean had run for 1,346 yards and 24 touchdowns; against the Comets, he had 79 yards. Jimmy Upson had 1,086 yards and 19 scores through 11 games; on Saturday, he had 18 yards. McClay entered the game with 646 yards and eight TDs; he had 25 yards against the Comets.
“We just had to play our football,” said Wilson, also a starting linebacker. “That’s how we practice every day, against that type of offense. We’re ready to play physical any time.”
For Hebard, it was simple: The Comets dominated the line of scrimmage, and the game because of that.
“They’re a physical front,” Hebard said. “We were able to out-physical people all year, but then we come in and run into the guys we try to emulate. They just do a good job and get after it. They know what they’re doing.”
Knoxville QB Bryan Fleisher had thrown for 178 yards on the season, but he was 2-for-5 for 18 yards against a Newman defense that was never in danger of getting scored on.
“I think we just had to get used to their speed, as well as the first bus ride in a little bit,” Kreczmer said. “After that, they really locked in and trusted what we were calling on the defensive side. They trusted what they saw and got after it.”
2A playoffs, quarterfinal
Newman 28, Knoxville 0
Star of the game: Jacob Ackman, Newman, 4-for-6, 157 yards, 2 TDs
Key performers: Andrew Velasquez, Newman, 17 carries, 104 yards; Zack Dean, Knoxville, 17-79
Up next: Class 2A semifinal, Minonk (Fieldcrest) at Newman, TBA