ERIE – Newman wasn’t exactly pretty in pink Friday night, but was effective enough to grind out a win over Erie-Prophetstown.
With players and coaches from both teams sporting pink socks to support breast cancer awareness, the Comets scored the first 21 points of the second half to secure a 35-20 victory over the Panthers at Wayne Hein Field.
Newman (8-0) can claim an undisputed Big Rivers crown next week with a road win over Amboy. A win by the Clippers (7-1) would result in a shared title.
The Comets weren’t flashy against Erie-Prophetstown, but they ground out touchdowns on their first three possessions of the second half to break open a tight game. All the damage was on the ground, with Brian Bahrs (14 carries, 104 yards, 2 TDs), Nick Rude (13 carries, 58 yards, 2 TDs) and Jake Snow (8 carries, 57 yards) leading the way.
“They were taking away our outside stuff, so we concentrated inside,” Newman coach Mike Papoccia said. “We can do it either way. I’m just happy the kids executed as well as they did. Our line was the difference in the second half. We really moved them off the ball, we got physical, and that was the turning point for us.”
Erie-Prophetstown fullback Zach Inskeep agreed with Papoccia.
“It was all in the trenches,” said Inskeep, who rushed for 108 yards and scored twice. “That’s what football is all about, and that was the difference-maker.”
Erie-Prophetstown (5-3) also made two crucial, tide-turning mistakes. After a 1-yard run by Panthers quarterback Ethan Howard brought his team to within 7-6 early in the second quarter, the Comets’ Michael Ely took back the ensuing kickoff 65 yards for a touchdown.
Newman scored on its first two possessions of the second half to go up 27-14, then a fumbled pitch from Howard to halfback Nick Williams set up the Comets’ final TD, a short plunge by Rude midway through the fourth quarter.
“We gave them two scores,” E-P coach Chuck Milem said, “and you just can’t do that against a quality football team. We’d better learn from those mistakes.”
The Panthers got the better of the Comets in the first half, outgaining them in total yardage 140-94. E-P rushed for just 58 yards in the second half.
“They’re a tough team this year,” Bahrs said. “It’s a big difference from last year. They’ve improved a lot, and they’re going to be reckoned with in the playoffs.”
Star of the game: Brian Bahrs, Newman, 14 carries, 104 yards, 2 TDs
Key performers: Nick Rude, Newman, 13 carries, 58 yards, 2 TDs; Zach Inskeep, Erie-P’town, 26 carries, 108 yards, 2 TDs
Up next: Newman at Amboy, St. Bede at Erie-Prophetstown, both 7:30 Friday