Easton Bianchi has run roughshod on 11 teams this season, but last week in the 2A quarterfinals, Orion bottled up the reigning 100- and 200-meter dash champ for 53 yards
on 12 rushes and no
After the game, Bianchi acknowledged he didn’t run for 200 yards or rip off a long touchdown run, but instead threw blocks to spring fellow backs Cade Gorzny and Luke Olson loose for big gains on the Comets’ way to a 40-14 win over the Chargers.
On Saturday, the Comets will need to play the same selfless football that has helped them to a spotless 12-0 record thus far, as they hit the road for the first time in these 2A playoffs to take on No. 2 seed Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley.
“He’s not a blocker usually, but he threw some nice blocks,” Newman head coach Mike Papoccia said of Bianchi. “He also said to me, ‘Don’t they know we’re a triple-option team? We’ve got three great backs in our wishbone.’ And I said ‘I think they do now.’”
“A football team isn’t one guy,” Bianchi said. “They tried to stop one guy, but they failed to realize that, here at Newman, we’re a whole team.”
A program that guards against complacency in past success every year will have to do so again in the semifinals to reach its eighth state title game. The Comets have scored an even 500 points this season, and only allowed 124.
“I don’t sense any complacency,” linebacker Brody Ivey said. “We know we beat a good team, but we have to keep it rolling. This is the big one to get to the big one.”
GCMS has been even more impressive on its way to a 12-0 record. The Falcons were ranked No. 2 in the final 2A poll, and have outscored their opponents 538-73 this season.
“We’re going to have to be really physical with this team,” Ivey said. “I feel like some of the teams they’ve played backed down from them, and we can’t be like that. We have to hit them hard every play, no matter who’s in there.”
Bruising running back Mitch McNutt is averaging 11.2 yards per carry for GCMS, rushing 128 times for 1,439 yards and 29 TDs (41-365-8 TDs in playoffs) this season. Jared Trantina has Jared Trantina 108 rushes for 812 yards and 15 TDs (33-188-1 TD in playoffs) in 2017, while Brooks Schmidt is averaging 11.7 yards per carry with 292 yards and 4 TDs on just 25 carries.
Falcons quarterback Nathan Garard has a game similar to Newman signal-caller Landen Vesley. He takes care of the ball (only three interceptions), can sling it through the air (46 of 69 passing, 903 yards, 14 TDs), and can tuck the ball and run if the defense allows him to do so (29 rushes, 245 yards, 5 TDs).
When Garard does pass, he has a pair of big-play receivers in Ryland Holt (14 receptions for 371 yards and 9 TDs this season) and Bryce Barnes (13 receptions for 286 yards and 3 TDs). Holt has caught accumulated 118 receiving yards in the postseason on just two catches, both of which went for touchdowns.
“We’ve played for a lot of people this season, and we still will,” Papoccia said. “But this one is for what our players accomplished this season and how hard they’ve worked. I told them to be a little selfish; play for each other and get a heck of a win.”
Bianchi still poses a threat to the Falcons defense with 117 rushes for 1,214 yards and 20 touchdowns on the ground, and seven receptions for 136 yards and three more scores. Gorzny eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark last week, rushing 28 times for 208 yards and three touchdowns against Orion. He now has 178 rushes for 1,065 yards and 10 TDs on the season.
Olson ran 10 times for 154 yards and two scores last week, including a 92-yard burst up the gut, bringing his season totals to 95 rushes for 790 yards and 14 TDs. Chase Graham can also fill in when called upon after having rushed 27 times for 139 yards and 6 TDs this season.
Vesley has completed 26 of 54 pass attempts for 541 yards and eight touchdowns to just one interception, and rushed 38 times for 251 yards and five touchdowns in 2017.
A bus trip about 3 hours long awaits Newman after three straight playoff games at the home confines of Roscoe Eades Stadium. Still, nothing will change in the Comets’ routine. They will go to mass at the school chapel at 8:30 a.m., grab some breakfast, and get on the bus and go.
“I don’t think much will change. Our following is great,” Bianchi said. “All our parents are going to be there. Even at our home games, we’ve had Fulton, Morrison and BV kids come to watch us and talk to us after the game. That’s awesome.”
“It’s all about the journey, not the destination,” Papoccia said. “This will be fun. We’ll go down there and play at another place we’ve never been before. That’s a good part for me. I like playing teams we’ve never played before.”
Class 2A quarterfinals
Orion at Newman
When: 2 p.m. Saturday
Where: Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley H.S., Gibson City
Radio: 102.7 FM
Twitter: @BrianWeidman & @AdamFeinerSVM