Newman defense preparing for Titans’ star back
For most of the 2012 season, Martel Hunter has been unstoppable.
The Newman Comets defense, on the other hand, has been immovable.
When Hunter's Monmouth-Roseville Titans play the Comets at 2 p.m. Saturday at Roscoe Eades Stadium in the second round of the Class 3A playoffs, something is going to have to give.
"He's the real deal," Newman coach Mike Papoccia said of Hunter. "He's quick. He hits the hole hard whether it's inside or outside. He's their top runner. He returns punts and kicks, and he's their leading tackler."
Hunter, a 5-foot-10, 170-pound junior, has rushed for 1,632 yards on 209 carries with 21 touchdowns. Hunter is a three-sport star, as he also shines in basketball and as a sprinter in track.
He is coming off a first-round performance of 234 yards and three touchdowns against St. Bede. The win was the first playoff victory for Monmouth-Roseville. Monmouth High School won playoff games before the formation of Monmouth-Roseville High School.
Newman beat the Titans in the first round of the 2008 playoffs 40-0.
"I thought St. Bede had him pretty well-defensed," Papoccia said. "They just missed tackles. That's a testament to him also because he runs hard. His line is also very determined to get to the second level. That's why he's been able to break so many long runs."
Papoccia and his players agree they have not seen a back of Hunter's ilk this season.
The most comparable back was Landon Piccatto from Hall, but Hunter has more speed. The other top backs in the Big Rivers, like Erie-Prophetstown's Zach Inskeep, were physical, grind-it-out backs. Hunter will look for the home run every play.
Senior linebacker Brian Bahrs says that the Comets have not seen a back like Hunter since the 2011 season when they played Kewanee's Dontae Pryor.
"They are almost the same back," Bahrs said. "They'll get to the outside and turn it on. We have to focus on our fundamentals, stay with our assignments. When you play against someone that good, you have get the job done with fundamentals."
To simulate Hunter's ability, the Comets have been using speedster Nick Rude in practice against the defense. Rude is even wearing jersey number 32 – Hunter's number.
"Nick is our No. 32 this week," linebacker Kyle Moore said. "He's getting us used to a back that's going to try get to the edges. That will be a big help for us come Saturday."
Newman's defense has been equally impressive in 2012. It's allowed seven or fewer points in seven games this season, including two shutouts. Opponents are averaging 7.9 points.
The most points they've allowed was 20 by Erie-Prophetstown in Week 8. Two weeks later in the first round of the playoffs, Newman held the Panthers to six points.
"I think it's a matter of trust," Moore said. "We believe in each other and trust each other to do the job. It's not about one person, but the team as a whole. We work together to be successful."
"They've answered every challenge," Papoccia said. "This is a new one, and we know they are going to give us everything they've got to answer this one as well."
When: 2 p.m. Saturday
Where: Roscoe Eades Stadium
Radio: 102.7 FM
Twitter: Follow Dan Woessner (@DanWoessner) for live updates