DEKALB — Beating Newman Central Catholic was going to be hard enough for Nashville. Beating Newman Central Catholic became impossible when the Hornets started beating themselves.
Four turnovers led to 21 points, the difference in the Class 2A championship game Friday as the Comets took a 35-14 win at Huskie Stadium.
Nashville (12-2) outgained Newman Central Catholic 361-289, picked up four more first downs (18-14) and ran 20 more plays from scrimmage (72-52). But its mistakes, which also included busted coverages on two long touchdown passes in the second quarter, were simply too much to overcome.
“We just made too many mistakes, especially against a team of this caliber,” Hornets coach Stephen Kozuszek said. “Seemed like any time we turned it over, they capitalized on it. Any time we’d get momentum with a big play and a stop, it seemed like we would turn it over.”
Junior quarterback Cole Malawy threw for 235 yards and a touchdown on 25 of 43 accuracy, but there were also three interceptions. Nashville also lost a fumble immediately after converting a third-and-11 on its first drive of the third quarter, and the Comets (13-1) cashed in the 44-yard field on Connor McBride’s 24-yard touchdown run with 3:38 remaining for a 28-7 lead.
Julian Metcalf kept the Hornets in the game with a 13-yard touchdown grab on a Malawy screen pass with 17 seconds left in the third quarter. Metcalf bounced off multiple tacklers around the 7, then carried a tackler about the last five yards to the right pylon.
When Nashville forced a punt and got the ball back at its 33 with 8:57 remaining in the game, it still had the proverbial puncher’s chance. One play later, the game was essentially over. Brett Newman jumped a wide receiver screen and lugged it 30 yards for the clinching touchdown.
Malawy looked down at the turf after the score, almost as though he were wishing he could jerk the ball back on a string.
“They didn’t do anything new,” Malawy said of Newman Central Catholic’s defense. “We just didn’t play as well as we could.”
Errors colored the Hornets’ performance almost from the start. They created the first break when Jace Matecki fell on a fumble at the Comets’ 41 just 2:10 into the game. But Andrew Wilson took advantage of a bobbled pass on the next snap and got an interception to quash Nashville’s hopes of scoring first.
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Newman Central Catholic used its wishbone attack to grind out 54 yards in 12 running plays, chewing up 6:14 of clock. Fullback Kye O’Brien powered in from the 1 at the 3:24 mark for a 7-0 lead.
The Hornets reached the 18-yard line on their next possession behind a mix of power runs by Metcalf and short passes. But Wilson came up with his second pick of the quarter, cutting in front of an open receiver at the 10.
Nashville’s next big mistake occurred about three minutes into the second quarter. One running play after another led to Jacob Ackman finding McBride off play-action over the middle. One poor attempt at tackling later, McBride was sailing to a 60-yard touchdown and a 14-0 advantage.
“They only had one safety over the top,” Ackman said. “Coach called a great play, and we executed.”
Metcalf, who played like a warrior in rushing for 103 yards on 24 carries, bulled nine yards up the middle with 4:19 left in the first half. It capped a 14-play drive that edged the Hornets within 14-7.
But another defensive miscue took momentum from Nashville. Open receivers ran through coverage on a 2nd-and-1 from the Hornets’ 39 with a minute left, and Ackman chose McBride down the right sideline. He made the catch and scored for a 21-7 halftime lead.
It was a margin Nashville wasn’t going to overcome.
“The two touchdown passes were a big hit for our defense,” Matecki said. “Every time we made a mistake, they utilized it to their advantage. But I think we showed people we were better than last year. We went from losing in the first round of the playoffs to the state championship game.
“This is a lot less painful.”