Five Thoughts on Millard South's 46-23 Win Over Omaha Creighton Prep
Photo Credit: John Peterson

5 Thoughts on the Elkhorn Stadium Double Header

November 06, 2021

The quarterfinal round of the state football playoffs featured an A-B double-header on Friday night at Elkhorn Stadium.

First, reigning Class B champion and fourth-seeded Elkhorn wore down and pulled away from No. 5 Seward for a 35-20 win.

Then, No. 5 Gretna knocked off No. 4 Elkhorn South 14-7, in a rematch from the regular season that went the other way.

Here are thoughts on each of the teams plus a look ahead.

No. 4 Elkhorn

The Antlers lost their coach to retirement and most of their key playmakers to graduation after winning state last year, but the program still knows how to win in the postseason.

Seward controlled much of the action in the first half and took a one-point lead into halftime, but Elkhorn stuck to its game plan and outscored the Bluejays three touchdowns to one in the second half.

Elkhorn quarterback Connor Hunt attempted just five passes, completing four of them for 60 yards including some timely gains. He didn’t need to throw it much, though, as Elkhorn unofficially ran the ball 49 times for 264 yards and five touchdowns.

Senior Henry Kroger served as the workhorse, carrying the ball 25 times for 116 yards and three scores. Hunt added six carries for 71 yards including a 45-yard touchdown run. Senior Hayden Stec ran the ball seven times for 29 yards and Elkhorn’s other touchdown, and he caught two passes for 30 yards.

Senior linebacker Dane Petersen was a force on defense all afternoon. He finished with double-digit tackles including at least two for loss and three more at the line of scrimmage. At one point, he stopped the Bluejays at the line on third-and-1, then did it again when Seward went for it on fourth down.

Petersen also caught a 26-yard fade on third-and-15, allowing the Antlers to overcome a holding penalty that knocked them off schedule and keeping a drive alive that eventually ended in a score that put Elkhorn up 28-14 thanks to a successful two-point conversion.

On the ensuing drive, Stec picked off Seward quarterback Gavin Sukup on a third-down pass, giving the Antlers a short field that they turned into another touchdown with just over five minutes to play. Senior safety Mikey Hart picked Sukup off on a deep pass on the next drive as well for good measure.

No. 5 Seward

As soon as I walked down to the field I knew the wind would be a factor, and it made a difference right from the start. Seward got the ball first but quickly went three-and-out. The Bluejays dropped back to punt from their own 21-yard line, but the punt went straight up in the air and then got knocked back by the wind, landing and bouncing backwards to the 10-yard line.

The Antlers assumed the play was over as a Bluejay (either Christian Fields or Reggie Sukup; it was hard to see the number) picked up the ball. However, the Bluejay who recovered the ball made a heads up play and took off up the left sideline, running 90 yards for a touchdown. Because the ball landed behind the line of scrimmage, the punting team was permitted to advance the ball.

That set the tone for a good first half. Elkhorn scored the next two touchdowns, but he second extra point bounced off the right upright to make it 13-7, and Seward marched down the field to take the lead just before halftime.

Seward ran out of steam in the second half, however, as the Bluejays turned the ball over on downs on their first two drives while Elkhorn scored on its first two, and then Seward threw interceptions on its next two possessions.

Seward’s only second-half score came on the final play of the game.

With Petersen, Stec and defensive tackles DJ Robinson-Long and Aidan Betz leading the way, Elkhorn limited Seward’s starting running back, Nolan Hill, and fullback, Trevor Ruth, to a combined 16 yards on seven carries.

Seward had to turn to Sukup to move the ball despite the swirling winds that made downfield passing difficult. The senior quarterback threw the ball 39 times, competing 23 of them, for 184 yards and Seward’s only two offensive touchdowns. He also ran the ball for 38 yards. Sukup made some tough plays throughout the game, but it wasn’t enough to keep pace with the Antlers.

No. 5 Gretna

These teams met on the same field four weeks ago and the Storm used a couple of late stops to secure a 28-20 win, handing Gretna its first (and to this point, only) loss of the season. On Friday, the Dragons avenged that loss.

Gretna got off to a rough start as star quarterback Zane Flores turned the ball over on the Dragons’ first two drives. Flores ran the ball on the third play of the game and picked up 16 yards, but an Elkhorn South defender popped the ball free and the Storm recovered it.

Elkhorn South turned the short field into a touchdown to take the lead, then three plays later Flores threw an interception on a deep shot.

Credit to the Dragons, though, especially on defense. After giving up 42 points against Lincoln East in the first round, Gretna stiffened up and kept the Storm scoreless after that first short-field touchdown.

A week after putting 59 on the board, Gretna’s offense continued to struggle as its last three drives ended in a punt, a missed field goal and a turnover on downs. The Dragons went into halftime scoreless.

However, the Dragons got it going in the second half, scoring on their first two drives to take the lead. The second score came on a beautiful deep ball from Flores to his top wideout, Joe Roll, who had gotten past the Storm defense for a 61-yard touchdown early in the fourth quarter.

Gretna went three-and-out on its last two possessions, but the offense did enough as the defense maintained the lead, picking off Elkhorn South quarterback Will Skradis once and forcing two turnovers on downs.

Flores was 19-of-30 passing for 200 yards and two touchdowns to go with his two turnovers. Running back Mick Huber racked up 104 yards on 18 carries and 35 yards on four receptions. He was also the one who had the interception off a deflection from teammate Bryce Volcheck and made a number of tackles from his safety spot. Roll finished with 100 yards on six receptions including the long touchdown.

No. 4 Elkhorn South

The Storm defense showed up like it had most of the season, holding Gretna well below its season scoring average, but the offense couldn’t find a way to put enough points on the board.

Perhaps the biggest sequence of the game came midway through the fourth quarter. Trailing 14-7, Elkhorn South faced a fourth down at the 4-yard line with less than a yard to go. Elkhorn South lined up to go for it, but didn’t get the snap off in time, taking a 5-yard delay of game penalty. After initially sending the field goal team out, Coach Guy Rosenberg called a timeout and  changed his mind, sending the offense back out there. Skradis’ pass for the end zone fell incomplete.

Junior running back Cole Ballard, who has been playing while banged up the last few weeks, carried the load as best as he could with 145 yards on 25 carries plus a 21-yard gain on a screen pass. He also laid some big hits from his safety spot.

Maverick Noonan, a 2023 Nebraska target, made some big plays once again. He had a number of pressures, one that led to an intentional grounding and another that led to an incomplete pass on a play where the corner was probably beat. He also moved some body when Elkhorn South put him in on offense.

Looking Ahead

The Class B quarterfinals included just one upset as No. 1 Bennington shut out No. 8 Waverly, setting up a meeting with Elkhorn in the semifinals next week at Bennington.

In the bottom half of the bracket, No. 3 Aurora, last year’s runner-up, rolled over No. 7 Scottsbluff. No. 6 seed Omaha Skutt knocked off a banged up Plattsmouth team, the previously unbeaten No. 3 seed.

In Class A, one half of the bracket was all seed line upsets while the other featured chalk. No. 2 Omaha Westside and No. 3 Bellevue West will duke it out for a spot in the championship.

Gretna will host No. 16 Omaha North, who kept its miracle run going with a one-point win at No. 8 North Platte thanks to a blocked PAT late. The Vikings lost their first five games but have win six in a row since.

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