With four shutouts in seven games, Newman’s defense would appear to be clicking on all cylinders heading into this week’s road game against Fulton.
Merely preventing points, however, is only part of the defensive goal. The Comets want the ball.
After a 20-17 home loss to Orion in Week 3, the Newman defense was challenged by defensive coordinator Brandon Kreczmer to produce three turnovers each week. They’ve delivered 10 turnovers
(8 interceptions, 2 fumble recoveries) in four games since then.
“We get a pat on the back and a ‘good job’ from Coach K, and that’s good enough for us,” said junior safety Andrew Wilson, whose pick helped keep Hall out of the end zone in a 27-0 win on Saturday afternoon.
Newman (6-1, 3-1 Three Rivers Rock) did struggle in two vital areas against the Red Devils. The Comets lost two fumbles in the second quarter, which allowed Hall to hang around longer than it normally would have.
Equally damning were nine penalties for 75 yards, including a holding penalty that nullified a long touchdown run by junior running back Connor McBride.
“We always stress it,” Newman coach Mike Papoccia said. “The penalties always stop some drives for us, and we’ve got to stop doing that, especially if we want to go very far in the playoffs.
“Against Fulton, the penalties will stall drives,” Papoccia added, “and then we’ll be in trouble.”
The Steamers (4-3, 4-1) have won four of their last five games since beginning the season with losses to TRAC crossover opponents St. Bede and Monmouth-Roseville.
Fulton starts seven sophomores, including their two top rushers, Ethan Rash (94 carries, 319 yards, 5 TDs) and Kyler Pessman (59-263, 2 TDs). It’s taken a while for the Steamers to acclimate themselves to this level of competition, but they seem to be getting the hang of it, according to head coach Patrick Lower.
“It’s kind of a learning process for us,” Lower said. “Early in the season we would show some positive signs, but we were very inconsistent. Now we’re getting more consistency in our play. The kids are understanding what we’re trying to do in practice and in games, and that’s exciting for us.”
Papoccia has watched plenty of tape on the Steamers, and noted it’s like night and day from the beginning of the season to where they’re at now.
“They’re young and they’re getting better as the year’s progressed,” Papoccia said. “We’ve seen some film on them from the beginning, and then towards the end, and they’ve definitely improved. Their backfield is young, but they’re really starting to play well. They’re just a younger team that’s really come a long ways this year.”
Newman, meanwhile, looks to be rounding into the force it always seems to be as the playoffs get closer. The Comets have their usual fearsome defense (6 points allowed per game) and ground-based offense (43.4 ppg) that few teams can handle.
“It doesn’t really matter if you play the 1999 version, the 2006 version, the 2012 version or the current version, they’re all basically the same,” Lower said. “They play physical football, they don’t make mistakes, they run the ball effectively, and on defense, everybody is quick to the ball. You know what you’re getting into with Newman.”
Newman (6-1) at Fulton (4-3)
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday
Where: Steamer Field, Fulton
Radio: 1390 AM, 102.7 FM