STERLING – Oh, the things you hear in the men's room.
The Newman Comets had a shot to change the complexion of their Class 3A semifinal bout Saturday against Aurora Christian late in the first half.
With just less than a minute left in the half, Newman was threatening and down 28-7. But things went from promising to foreboding when M.J. Zepeda sniffed out Dillan Heffelfinger’s field-wide lateral intended for quarterback A.J. Sharp and scored from 65 yards away. Instead of Newman cutting the deficit down to two scores, it slipped into a 34-7 pit.
When the Comets failed to tilt the playing field, I thought I’d try to beat the crowd to the restroom.
I failed, too. And I’m kind of glad I did.
From the moment that I got into the line that was about 15 guys deep until I answered nature’s call, I listened to a fan base that demands excellence. But rather than citing anything the Comets were doing wrong, it was one big Aurora Christian pep rally.
The two gentlemen behind me talked about how fun the Eagles were to watch. While they lamented the season likely being over, they went on to talk about how proud they were of their boys. I would’ve asked them for their names, but bathroom ettiquette does not allow such behavior.
“Now I understand why they lost to Montini by three,” I heard another Newman fan say once I got through the door.
“You could move those guys up to 5A, and they’d have a pretty good shot,” another voice added from the general vicinity of the urinals. Can’t be certain, but the awe-struck analysis came from that direction. See: again, the bathroom code.
The bottom line? The Newman Comets did not, in any way shape or form, pee down their leg Saturday afternoon. They simply ran into an animal unlike any other they’d seen this season.
If you read my column from last weekend’s Amboy game, you might be thinking, “Didn’t I just read this column? Didn’t you just get done admiring the opposition and exonerating the local team?” Well, take the credit I gave Mercer County and multiply it by 10.
In the first 10 minutes alone, Eagles receivers made three catches that no wideout in the Big Rivers could make with regularity.
“I’ve never seen an offense like that,” senior defensive back Nic Miller said after the game. “Give them credit. I wouldn’t have rather lost to any other team than these guys. They proved they were better, so that kind of lessens the pain a little bit.”
When Chad Beebe somehow managed to get both feet down in bounds, despite blanket coverage, for a touchdown that made it 21-7 with 1:04 left in the first period, the Newman coaches greeted their defense on the sideline with praise.
It caught Miller off-guard, considering how much his coaches are sticklers for details and effort.
The details, effort and execution were there. The Eagles were just that stinking good.
“Usually, when they score and we come off the field, they’re screaming at us and everything, but today they were saying there was nothing we could do about it,” Miller said. “We were giving it our all, and we’d just never seen that before.”
Shortly after I returned from my “break” at the break, Newman assistant coach Tim Nelson walked over and said, “They’re pretty good, huh?”
Put the Eagles on a fast, field-turf track like Roscoe Eades’ – and the one at Memorial Stadium in Champaign – and Nelson was one of several coaches, family members, friends, etc., who predicted the they would soar past Tolono in the title game.
But that didn’t appear to make it any easier on any part of the Blue Machine. 2012 graduate Nate Ackert made his way through the sea of blue, hugging his former teammates. Former Comet player and coach Mike LeMay’s eyes were mighty red, too, after a long embrace with his kid brother, Luke. Don’t tell Mike that, just because he’s now a member of Sterling’s coaching staff, he’s no longer allowed to bleed blue.
As for his former coach, Mike Papoccia, he tearfully said goodbye to his team, saying he was as proud of them as any team he coached. He said he couldn’t express how proud he was. Then he repeated it.
When the blue smoke cleared, I caught up with him and he posed the question, “Would it be easier if it was like this, or if it was 8-7?”
I gotta believe this wound will heal faster than if the game came down to a play here, or another there. There was no need for woulda, coulda, shoulda at the LeMay household Saturday night.
All that was left was to celebrate how much fun the Blue Machine shared during a ride that ended farther down the Class 3A road than any other in the program’s history.
But wait ... there's more
Read all about Newman's Bobby Gray, whose first carry of the season ended the Comets' campaign on a glorious note. SVM will tell his story in Friday's section.