EDGINGTON – The one thorn in Newman’s side a year ago was a loss to Rockridge.
Consider that thorn removed.
The Comets overcame a sluggish first-half performance to rally for a 20-14 victory over the Rockets on Friday night in a battle of state-ranked teams. Newman entered the game No. 1 in Class 2A, while Rockridge checked in at No. 3.
Newman’s win helped take some of the sting away from a 21-9 loss to the Rockets in 2013, the only blemish in a 13-1, state championship campaign.
“Most of us knew the feeling we had last year,” junior running back Brady Rude said, “and we were determined not to have that feeling again. We’re not satisfied, though. It’s on to Week 2.”
Rude was involved in the game’s biggest plays. His 25-yard run was the lone offensive highlight in the first half for the Comets, and kept the team within 14-8 at the time.
A 39-yard TD run by Rude to open the second half drew the Comets even at 14-14.
Newman took the lead for good on its only completed pass of the night, a 12-yard strike from Logan Whitman to Dillan Heffelfinger with 3 minutes, 16 seconds left in the third quarter.
After that, it was a matter of hanging on. The Comets did that, largely because of Rude.
With 6:56 left to play, speedy Rockridge quarterback Luke Johnson got loose up the right sideline and appeared headed for the tying score. He was tracked down at the 12, however, by Rude after a 56-yard gain.
Newman’s defense then stiffened, turning away the Rockets on four straight plays.
“I looked at it like a runway in track,” Rude said of tackling Johnson. “You’ve just got to get him. I did it for my team. You’ve got to cover, because people were covering for me out there. I wasn’t just going to give up.”
Johnson rushed 18 times for 132 yards and a touchdown in the first half. In the second half, he had 10 carries for 75 yards, but most of them came on that one play.
Newman went away from its 3-5 defensive alignment to a 4-4 in the second half, with Noah Leffelman joining Jacob Barnes, David Rowzee and Maxwell Grove up front. It clogged up the middle, where Johnson did a lot of damage, and freed up Rude to make plays.
“They made some fantastic adjustments at halftime,” Johnson said, “and we couldn’t find anything to work against them the second half.”
After being held to 33 yards of offense the first half, Newman was able to put up 118 in the second half. The Comets had no turnovers, though, and just five penalties for 45 yards.
Barnes credited head coach Mike Papoccia with lighting a fire under the team.
“We had the normal Newman pep talk by our great coach, Coach Papoccia,” Barnes said. “He knows exactly what to say to motivate us, and we just came together as a team. We all started doing what we were doing in practice.”