GIBSON CITY – Of all the gaudy statistics the Newman and Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley football teams posted through 12 games, perhaps the biggest number in determining the winner between the two squads on Saturday was 3½.
That was how many inches of rain fell Friday night in Gibson City, turning the school’s football field into a quagmire in spots, and a muddy mess everywhere else. It was the Falcons who dealt with the conditions the best, and they earned a 14-8 win over the Comets in a Class 2A semifinal.
GCMS (13-0) advances to take on Maroa-Forsyth (12-1), a 25-14 winner against Shelbyville, in the 2A title game on Friday at Huskie Stadium in DeKalb.
It is the first title-game appearance for the Falcons, whose previous deepest run in the playoffs had been to the 2009 semifinals. They lost to eventual state champ Morrison 42-18 in that contest, but were all smiles after their latest semi opportunity.
“It’s obviously a great feeling, and it’s all our team has talked about,” GCMS senior running back/linebacker Mitch McNutt said.
“Our team deserves it,” McNutt added. “Every single person has put in the work and it’s finally here, but we haven’t achieved our goal yet. We’ve got one more game.”
Mike Allen has been the head coach at GCMS since 2001, and endured an 0-9 campaign out of the gate. Now, he’s one step away from a state title.
“I’m numb,” Allen said. “There’s so many things going through my head right now. I’m just proud of the kids, how well they played, the effort they put in all season, all summer – they deserve this. We’re just really pumped up and excited.”
Newman (12-1), meanwhile, was denied its eighth title game appearance.
“They’re a fast and physical team, and it was a battle all game,” Newman’s Cade Gorzny said. “They just got some plays that we couldn’t stop.”
Both teams’ potent offenses came to a screeching halt, due in part to a sloppy field, and also dealing with two ferocious defenses. Newman had 167 yards of total offense, including a mere 117 rushing yards on 48 carries. The Comets had 3,826 yards through 12 games.
Easton Bianchi, a 2A all-stater with 1,217 yards rushing on just 118 carries, had 10 carries for 39 yards. He had just two second-half carries, as field conditions deteriorated.
“It affected us more than them because they were a lot more of a power team and we couldn’t use any of our speed to the outside, or inside even,” Newman coach Mike Papoccia said. “Our linemen couldn’t get on their blocks and sustain them because they were slipping all over, too. They did a lot better job with that than we did, and they deserved to win.”
Gorzny led Newman with 17 carries for 53 yards.
“We couldn’t really get much traction, but we played on the same field as them so you can’t really make any excuses,” Gorzny said.
Gorzny’s 1-yard touchdown run, and Luke Olson’s 2-point conversion run, gave Newman an 8-6 lead 5 seconds before halftime. That scoring drive came with a steep price, however.
On a third-and-2 play from the GCMS 5, 3-year starting quarterback Landen Vesley was injured while diving for the right pylon on what turned out to be a 3-yard gain and a first down. Vesley suffered what he termed a “major sprain” of his right ankle, and he did not play in the second half.
“It hurt real bad, but I didn’t know how bad it was until I got to the locker room,” Vesley said. “When they told me I was done, there was nothing I could do.”
The Comets missed two golden opportunities to build on their halftime lead with the wind at their backs in the third quarter. The first drive stalled at the Falcons’ 16, when Gorzny was stuffed on a fourth-and-1 play.
“That was a crucial time of the game, for sure,” Papoccia said. “We thought we were going to take it in, and we’d be up a score and a half at least.”
On the next series, Bianchi lost a fumble at the GCMS 42 – the only turnover of the game.
“That was big,” Allen added. “That was the difference in the football game. Our defense stepped up big when it had to.”
When Newman got the ball back again, it was on its own 15, and field position had flipped.
GCMS’s eventual go-ahead drive started at the Newman 27, after a 23-yard punt return by McNutt. Eight plays later, it was McNutt who plunged in from the 1 to give his team a 12-8 lead with 9:29 left in the fourth quarter.
It was up to Brycen Bartel, a junior quarterback who had not attempted a pass and rushed for only 25 yards through 12 games, to guide the Comets in a comeback attempt. He didn’t have much of a chance, fighting a fierce wind and a fiercer GCMS defense down the stretch.
The Falcons got a safety when Hayden Workman sacked Bartel with 2:39 remaining to up the score to 14-8.
Newman’s last possession started from its own 1, after a perfect punt by the Falcons’ Ben Freehill with 40 seconds to play. The Comets did get out to the 30 before time ran out.
McNutt churned out 108 yards on 32 carries to lead the GCMS offense. The Falcons had just 163 total yards.
“The mud was terrible, and it was really hard to cut,” McNutt said. “I’m not going to lie – Newman’s defense is very good. There wasn’t much space to go. You just had to break some tackles. Every single one of us on offense did our jobs, and we were able to punch it in the end zone a couple of times.”
GCMS seized a 6-0 lead when Rylan Holt hauled in a 14-yard scoring pass from Nathan Garard with 59 seconds left in the first quarter. That lead stood until Newman scored just before halftime.
Class 2A semifinal
Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley 14, Newman 8
Star of the game: Mitch McNutt, GCMS, 32 rushes, 108 yards, TD
Key performers: Luke Freehill, GCMS, 17 tackles; Cade Gorzny, Newman, 17 rushes, 53 yards, TD