Heat and humidity at Seacrest Field claimed muscles left and right. Cramp breaks doubled as water stoppages throughout the 3 hours Lincoln Southeast and Elkhorn South needed to determine a winner.
Friday’s game included two Husker football recruits, one Husker baseball recruit and two big-time Class A programs. In the end, it was a first-time starter who commanded the game and his big-name teammate who put it away.
Southeast threatened to retake its lead with 5 minutes left in the fourth quarter when the ball hit the turf. When the bodies were eventually pried away it was committed Nebraska Cornhusker Maverick Noonan with the ball for Elkhorn South. Two minutes later, the Storm were in the end zone to clinch a 31-20 win over the Knights in a successful two-touchdown first start for junior quarterback Carson Rauner.
“They’re a good team, we played really good and took care of business,” Rauner said. “They’re at top-10 team. But we played really good and got the job done.”
Friday’s game at Seacrest Field pitted two Nebraska commits against each other. Elkhorn South’s Noonan went toe-to-toe with Southeast’s Gunnar Gottula in the trenches throughout the season opener for both.
Each showed their talent and potential. Noonan scored a personal victory when he pushed his way into the backfield and sacked quarterback Owen Baxter for a 3-yard loss. He nearly did it again the following drive but Baxter was able to escape and connect with Cash Buettenback for a 31-yard score. The Storm’s standout lineman’s feet slid out from under him, his quick feet moving ahead of his body while beating a blocker to the outside, on another potential sack early in the second quarter.
Gottula, meanwhile, kept his opponent (and future teammate) at bay long enough for Baxter to dart up the middle for a 36-yard run, setting up Southeast’s first touchdown. When the field flipped and the Knights went on defense at the goal line to end the first half, he caved in running lanes for two stops. Elkhorn South ultimately settled for a field goal from the 8.
GBR 🤝🤝 @GottulaGunnar pic.twitter.com/Fc2Zf7qWGL
— Maverick Noonan (@MaverickNoonan) August 27, 2022
Big stage, big plays
The two sides combined for six touchdowns — four in the first half. Each required young men to become playmakers.
Baxter’s toss to Buettenback to open scoring happened with the quarterback’s elusiveness found the open receiver. Elkhorn South equalized less than a minute later on a precision pass from Rauner to Jackson Moeller Swan down the sidelines for 48 yards. Cole Ballard put the Storm ahead with his 8-yard touchdown catch that started in the flat and ended with two defenders on his back. That was after making two defenders miss in the open field. Baxter then stepped into a big-time throw to Henry Woods to bring the Knights level in the second quarter.
Ballard gave the Storm an insurance touchdown in the fourth quarter when he hit the corner and outran the Knights defense for 39 yards.
It was a mistake-free first start for Rauner, a junior who’s attended Storm head coach Guy Rosenburg’s “Offense 101” class since fifth grade.
“It was an exciting first varsity start,” Rauner said after the game. “Energy was flowing, just made the most of it.”
Noonan made the big defensive plays down the stretch. When Southeast could have potentially seized the lead with 5 minutes left in the game, the ball came loose and Noonan was the one who ultimately carried it to the officials. In Southeast’s last possession, Noonan pushed past the line of scrimmage and wrapped up the ball carrier. Two snaps later, he collapsed the pocket and took down a scrambling Baxter on fourth down to clinch Elkhorn South’s win.