ERIE – On a night full of offense, it was a defensive play that turned the tide.
Newman trailed Erie-Prophetstown 30-13 with 1:46 left in the first half when Panthers quarterback Ethan Howard was picked off by Dillan Heffelfinger. The junior took the interception 25 yards for a touchdown, making the score 30-21 in favor of the Panthers after a 2-point conversion.
After the 54-38 Newman win Friday night, it was that interception that Comets head coach Mike Papoccia credited as the crucial play for his team.
“That pick was a big momentum changer,” he said. “It was a godsend for us, because we weren’t playing very good defensively. And that was the big spark, I guess you could say, that we really needed to get back in the game. And from there on, the kids started believing more.”
Heffelfinger’s interception came just 18 seconds after senior running back Jake Snow scored a 16-yard touchdown, his second of the game to that point. Snow ended the night with 176 yards and four touchdowns on 16 carries.
He said he was among the Newman players worried that a 30-7 Erie-Prophetstown lead with 3:25 left in the first half could spiral out of control.
“In the beginning, I’m not going to lie, I was one of the ones that was worried and scared,” Snow said. “Being down 30-7, we don’t see that too often. It’s an eye-opener when that happens. We were being really laggy on the sidelines, and once that touchdown and interception – pick-6 – happened, our sideline started getting into it.”
Much of the Panthers’ 23-point lead came as a result of Nick Williams, who ran for 174 yards in the first half. He ended the game with 259 yards and a touchdown, which came on a 68-yard run on his fourth carry of the game.
Panthers sophomore Jordan Chandler scored twice in the first half, on runs of 69 and 17 yards. He added a 64-yard TD in the second half to end the game with 156 yards on nine carries.
“We had good momentum coming in,” Williams said. “This was obviously a big game for us. They got the momentum rolling and it was just hard to stop them once they got it going, but we did what we could do.”
In a game with 915 combined rushing yards, there were nine runs or more than 15 yards, and touchdown runs from 68, 69, 64, 17 and 74 yards. There were only eight passes thrown the entire game, and three were caught for a combined 68 yards.
Two of those completions belonged to the Comets, who also added a second pick-6 with 9:49 left in the game. This one was from Trevor Bolin, whose score capped a 20-point swing to put Newman up 48-38.
Brady Rude added a 74-yard touchdown run to cap the scoring with 2:05 left in the game.
The benefit of such a wild game, Papoccia said, was added confidence.
“The kids know that they can come back from just about anything,” he said. “We were very close to being buried there. We got a couple interceptions for touchdowns and that just changed the complexion of the whole game.
“I just give our kids credit. They were where they were supposed to be and did what they were supposed to do and played with a lot of heart, in the second half especially.”