Aurora Christian (11-1) at Newman (12-0)
Throughout Mike Papoccia's 33-year tenure as the Newman football coach, the Comets' game plan has been the same: be more physical than their opponent.
That will be of utmost importance in Saturday's Class 3A semifinal game at Roscoe Eades Stadium, where Newman hosts the Aurora Christian Eagles at 2 p.m.
While physicality is the name of the game in the rough-and-tumble Big Rivers, the Comets will be dealing with a completely different animal when former Buffalo Bills wideout Don Beebe brings his Eagles to town.
"They're more of a finesse team, and we don't play many teams like that," Newman senior running back/safety Nick Rude said. "We play a physical style in our conference, and we're going to stick to that this week. We have to make our physicality stand out on the field Saturday."
Aurora Christian (11-1) runs a spread offense, with quarterback Ryan McQuade connecting with eight different receivers for 2,748 yards and 38 touchdowns, to go with 13 interceptions. The Eagles have also sprinkled in the run very effectively, led by fullback Joel Bouganon (1,260 yards, 18 TDs) and tailback Brandon Mayes (750 yards, 6 TDs).
The Eagles' lone loss came in Week 8 to Montini, a 31-27 defeat against a Class 5A semifinalist. That game, and a 28-21 second-round playoff win over Immaculate Conception, are the only two games all season where Aurora Christian didn't score at least 38 points.
Look for the Newman defense to try and counteract that fast-paced, potent offense with an assortment of schemes and blitzes to keep the Eagles off-balance.
"We're going to play Newman D; we're not going to mix it up too much now," senior linebacker Kyle Moore said. "We want to get after them, keep coming at them, hit them hard. We have to put pressure on the quarterback, not give him time to throw, and make him think about the pass rush every time he drops back."
While Beebe knows it will be tough to stop the Newman run game – "No one has done that to them yet this year," he said – the focus is more on his offense being able to exploit whatever openings they can find in the Newman secondary.
"We must pick apart their blitzing schemes," Beebe said, "and be ready to take advantage of big plays when they decide to bring extra guys. We have a very smart QB in Ryan McQuade, so hopefully he takes advantage of that."
Beebe also hopes the Eagles' running game continues to have the same success from their two tight-end set as it has the past couple of weeks.
And it's their own running game the Comets are counting on to help out the defense. Longer possessions keep the Eagles' offense on the sideline, and limit their chances to hit big plays down the field.
"We have to keep the ball in our hands and out of theirs," Moore said. "We have to control the tempo and the clock, get those 5- and 7-yard gains every play, drive the ball and finish those drives with touchdowns."
"We have to keep them off the field, and to do that, we have to grind out long scoring drives," Rude added. "I think we should be more physical than them, and that's going to allow us to control the game with our offense – and give us a good chance to win."
When: 2 p.m. Saturday
Where: Roscoe Eades Stadium
Radio: 102.7 FM, 1240 AM, 107.7 FM
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