Win or lose, the Amboy Clippers' football season ends Friday. They'd sure love to go out with a bang.
While the playoffs aren't in the picture in Amboy this season, a big win over arch rival Newman at The Harbor sure would feel like a playoff win.
"Beating Newman would make our season right now," senior two-way lineman Garrett Liebing said. "Beating Newman at all is a big deal, but it would mean a lot to the players and coaches and fans if we could make up for us not having playoff chances by beating a team that's obviously in the playoffs … especially if it's Newman."
For the second year in a row, the Clippers and Comets meet in Week 9. For the fifth straight season, it's a matchup between the two Three Rivers North rivals in the final 3 weeks of the regular season.
The Comets (7-1, 5-0) have won 14 of the last 17 games in the series, and five of the last six. But as always seems to be the case with the two hard-nosed teams, only one of those last six games was decided by more than a touchdown.
"Newman-Amboy is always a good game, no matter what the circumstances are," Newman coach Mike Papoccia said. "We've talked all week about how tough they always are, and how this year, there's a little more fire because they're going to play like it's their playoff game."
The Comets have a lot on the line, too. While they've already secured a high playoff seed by virtue of their seven victories, they're also in search of their second straight outright conference title. Even a loss would give Newman a share of its fourth straight conference crown, but the Comets would love to go into the playoffs on a high note.
"We know they're going to play at a high level and really test us, and I don't know if we could have a better game to prepare us for the playoffs," Papoccia said. "They always compete hard, and we'll have to earn everything we get."
While stopping the physical ground game will be a tall task for Amboy's defense, the offense is looking to be a bit unpredictable. Even though the injury bug has hit hard in Clipper land, Papoccia is still wary of some of the ways Amboy (2-6, 2-3) can beat his team.
For his part, Amboy coach Gary "Tank" Jones hopes to play that up, using as many of the weapons he has at his command as possible. Tailback Jason Bontz (159 rushes, 920 yards, 8 TDs) leads the way, but look for fullback Jason Benhoff and receiver Damon Quest (17 catches, 329 yards, 5 TDs) to get into the mix as well.
Quarterback Liam Ohlendorf has thrown for 513 yards and seven touchdowns on 34-for-66 passing.
"We can't just sit back and run option at them all game we have to keep them off-balance a little bit," Jones said. "We have to be effective with our trapping game, and complete some passes, even if they're not very far down the field. Unless we can make them play a little pass coverage – even if it's 5-yard outs or quick slants – they're going to put nine men in the box and we're up a creek."
Like Bontz, Newman senior running back Jake Snow can also reach 1,000 yards for the season on Friday. Snow leads a bevy of Comet backs with at least 250 yards, as he's been the workhorse with 101 rushes for 954 yards and 19 touchdowns.
Sophomore Brady Rude (39 rushes 451 yards, 5 TDs), senior Elliot Jensen (50 rushes, 393 yards, 6 TDs) and junior Dillan Heffelfinger (45 rushes, 258 yards, 7 TDs) also help carry the load, and junior Shayne Allen (11 catches, 247 yards, 1 TD) has been the favorite target of senior quarterback A.J. Sharp (29-for-52 passing, 570 yards, 2 TDs).
"They're big and physical, and they've got a ton of speed, and they just keep rotating backs and never lose a step," Jones said. "We have to get off blocks and plug those gaps up the middle, but we also have to be careful we don't get burned on a pass play. We've got our work cut out for us."
Newman (7-1, 5-0 TRAC North) at Amboy (2-6, 2-3)
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday
Where: The Harbor
Radio: 102.7 FM, 101.7 FM
Twitter: Follow @STyReynolds for live in-game updates