STERLING – Mike Papoccia could see his Newman Comets heading down a slippery slope midway through the second quarter of Saturday’s game against Hall.
A string of mistakes had opened the door for the winless Red Devils to pull within a score of the undefeated Comets.
Even worse, Hall had the ball again after forcing a three-and-out.
The Comets needed a hero, and they got one in defensive back Ryan Schaab, who stepped in front of a receiver to make a diving interception. The play turned the tide permanently, in what turned into a 49-14 rout for Newman (7-0, 7-0 Big Rivers).
“That was a big play, and it wasn’t an easy one,” Papoccia said. “Schaab is sort of one our unsung heroes, and he proved that again today. You could feel the tide changing before that. Hall hasn’t won, but they have been playing very hard. Things started going their way, and we were playing in neutral before that.”
The Comets started in overdrive, needing just three offensive plays to put seven points on the board. Jake Snow notched the touchdown with a 15-yard run with 9 minutes, 2 seconds left in the first quarter.
After Jacob Barnes recovered a fumble on Hall’s ensuing drive, the Comets went back to work. This time it was the arm of quarterback A.J. Sharp and the hands of Nic Miller that did the work. The duo connected for a 12-yard gain early in the drive, then capped it off with a 22-yard TD strike to put Newman up 14-0.
The teams traded possessions when Hall (0-7, 0-7) took over at its own 9-yard line. The Red Devils appeared stalled out at the 15-yard line, but a running into the punter penalty extended the drive. They were forced to punt again at the 29. This time Newman fumbled away the punt, giving Hall another chance.
Landon Piccatto, a 5-10, 170-pound senior, made the Comets pay with a 40-yard touchdown. Piccatto also returned a punt 59 yards for touchdown in the second half. He finished with 93 rushing yards on 17 carries.
“He’s the guy we keyed on all week,” Snow said. “He’s tough and quick. We did a pretty good job on him, but he worked hard for his yards.”
After the Piccatto touchdown, Newman was forced to punt after three plays, which set up the Schaab touchdown.
Newman capitalized on the turnover driving quickly past midfield before Brian Bahrs scored from 35 yards out to put the Comets up by two touchdowns going into half.
After half, Snow put the game away with 49-yard touchdown run where he eluded two would-be tacklers in the open field.
“Coach said I took out two guys with one stiff arm,” Snow said. “That was pretty cool. It was big because we weren’t happy with how we played in the first half. “
Snow finished with 99 yards and two touchdowns. Bahrs, Nick Rude and Jermaine Jones added touchdown runs in the second half.
Newman had 374 rushing yards compared to 77 for Hall.
Star of the game: Jake Snow, Newman, 99 rushing yards, 2 TDs
Key performers: Landon Piccatto, Hall, 93 rushing yards, 1 TD, 1 punt return for TD; Jacob Barnes, Newman, 5 tackles, 2 sacks, fumble recovery; Brian Bahrs, Newman, 71 rushing yards, 2 TDs, also eight tackles, 1 sack
Up next: Newman at Erie-Prophetstown, 7:30 p.m. Friday