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Comets, Panthers start with stretches away from home

Road tests early, often

Published: Tuesday, July 1, 2014 11:58 p.m. CST
(Philip Marruffo/
Newman's Brady Rude is brought down by Morrison's Joey Brackemyer Friday night.
(Michael Krabbenhoeft/
Morrison's Mason Sitzmore (7) runs the ball during the second quarter of the Mustangs' game on Saturday.
(Michael Krabbenhoeft/
Newman's Dillan Heffelfinger, left, pushes through the Mercer County defense of Hank Connor during the fourth quarter of the Comets' semi-final game against the Golden Eagles.
(Philip Marruffo/
Newman's Jacob Barnes reaches out for Erie-Prophetstown's Jordan Chandler during their game last season in Erie. The Comets and Panthers get a heavy dose of travel early on in 2014, with both playing three of their first four games on the road.
(Michael Krabbenhoeft/
Bureau Valley's Parker Neuhalfen (7) runs the ball while being pursued by Newman's Regan Todhunter (17).

There’s no reward for last season’s playoff teams from the Three Rivers North when it comes to the 2014 football schedules.

While four local schools enjoy home games for a majority of the first half of the season, the Newman Comets and Erie-Prophetstown Panthers – the only teams from the conference who made the playoffs in 2013 – will be road warriors to open the slate, with three of their first four games away from home.

“We’ve got work to do right out of the gate, that’s for sure,” Newman coach Mike Papoccia said. “Our kids better be ready to answer the bell from Day 1.”

The Comets open the season at Rockridge, the only team that beat them last year. After a Saturday home game against Princeton in Week 2, Newman heads to Bureau Valley and Morrison the next 2 weeks to face a pair of squads who should be much improved after going through some struggles last season.

But the advantage of a tough opening stretch comes at the back end of the schedule. The Comets play four of their final five games at Roscoe Eades Stadium, and close the season with three consecutive games on the artificial turf of Sterling Chevrolet Field.

“It’s going to be a doozy as usual,” Papoccia said, “but our kids know it takes effort to get out of the gate strong … and that’s something our team has always been good at. The bar has been set, and if we can play well on the road to start the season, we get a lot of home-crowd support at the end of it.”

After playing three of their first four on the road, the Panthers get three of the next four at home before traveling to Orion in Week 9. Erie-Prophetstown hosts Bureau Valley, Amboy and Morrison during that second stretch, which also includes a game in Sterling against the Comets.

“We knew this was coming, so it’s really not that big of a shock,” Panthers coach Chuck Milem said of the road-heavy schedule to open the season. “I kind of like it, because it tests our kids early and lets us know where we are.”

Of the Panthers’ first four games, three are against teams with winning records. E-P travels to Kewanee – a 6-4 team last season – to open the season, before facing a Hall team that went 7-4 a season ago. Fulton, another team that finished with a wining record at 5-4, closes out the early road tests.

“We have two quality contenders right off the bat,” Milem said. “Kewanee and Spring Valley Hall surprised everyone last season. We’re definitely going to be tested early on, and I’m excited for that opportunity.”

Each team in the conference will head on the road for the first week of the season, but while the Comets and Panthers will be gassing up their busses in the early portion of the season, the rest of the teams will enjoy their home crowds.

Bureau Valley, Fulton and Amboy will each host three of the first four games of the season, and Morrison will play three of its first five games at home.

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