Photo Credit: John Peterson

Five Thoughts on a Playoff Football Friday in Elkhorn

October 29, 2022

Elkhorn played host to a B-A double-header on Friday night as the playoffs kicked off for the top six classes statewide.

First, No. 13 Grand Island Northwest knocked off No. 4 Elkhorn in a thriller, 24-21.

Then, No. 3 Elkhorn South continued its dominant run with a 48-20 win against No. 14 Lincoln East.

Here are five thoughts on Friday night’s action.

CLASS B

Tale of Two Halves

The Class B game had the look of a defensive struggle early. After a quick 50-minute half, neither side had manage to find the end zone or even really threatened to do so, excluding Northwest’s first drive that ended with an interception inside the Elkhorn 30.

The teams combined for fewer than 240 yards, 0 points and seven punts in the first 24 minutes of game time.

Grand Island Northwest senior Tyler Douglass runs the ball up the sideline against Elkhorn.
Photo by Eric Francis.

Whatever speeches the coaches gave to their offenses in the locker room seemed to have worked, however, as the teams scored 45 points after halftime. The Antlers and Vikings both scored on their first two possessions of the second half, with Elkhorn’s second score tying the game at 14-14 with 7:00 to play.

The Antlers finally broke the chain by forcing a Northwest punt then faced a fourth-and-1 on their own 24. They chose to go for it with just over three minutes to play, and the Vikings stuffed them to take over.

It took six plays, but Northwest made the Antlers pay for their gamble as quarterback Austin Pyne rolled out to his left, extended the play than ran up the sideline, diving in for the 5-yard go-ahead touchdown with 1:34 to play.

Elkhorn is the epitome of an old-school, run the ball team who lines up in heavy formations all game and rarely even has a wide receiver on the field. The 4 yards and a cloud of dust offense isn’t going to work with 90 seconds to go, however. They had to go to the air with incomplete passes on first and second down and a 7-yard gain on third down.

Facing a fourth-and-3, they went back to their trusty run game and senior KJ Schenck sliced through the defense for a 35-yard gain down to the 23-yard line. Quarterback Conor Hunt then picked up 13 yards with his feet, though a hold on the next play bumped the Antlers back to the 24-yard line. Hunt then dropped a dime to Cole Houck in the end zone to tie the game up with 55 seconds remaining.

But the Antlers scored too quickly. Payne orchestrated an eight-play, 47-yard drive with completions of 4, 5, 17 and 3 yards and runs of 11, 5 and 7 yards. That set up a 41-yard field goal attempt for Peyton Atwood, and he drilled it with six seconds left.

After a touchback, Schenck nearly ripped off a long run up the left sideline as the Vikings needed to drag him down by the horse collar to get him down, setting up an untimed down near midfield. Elkhorn attempted a short pass likely looking for some kind of screen play, but the receiver dropped the pass to end the game.

Mr. Do-It-All

Payne was phenomenal for the Vikings despite the early interception (which was a great play by the defense more than anything). The prolific quarterback finished 16-of-25 passing against a good Elkhorn defense for 190 yards and a touchdown and he ran the ball 15 times for 57 yards and another score.

The rest of the Vikings combined for 13 rushes as they leaned heavily upon their quarterback (though senior Tyler Douglass was productive with 50 yards and a touchdown on his 10 touches).

He was calm, cool and collected during the go-ahead drive, peppering the sideline with quick throws to keep the clock stopped then picking up chunks of yardage with his feet when they were available. His best play of the game was a throw, however, as he dropped a dime deep down the field over a defender to Tegan Lemkau for an 83-yard touchdown. Lemkau was Payne’s favorite target on Friday night with seven catches for 118 yards.

Through 10 games this season, Payne has completed 65.2% of his passes for an average of 252.5 yards per game with 19 touchdowns and nine interceptions, and he’s led the Vikings in rushing attempts, racking up 423 yards and six more scores on the ground.

Work Horse

Elkhorn senior KJ Schenck picks off a first-quarter pass with one hand against Grand Island Northwest. Photo by Eric Francis

If Payne was the man for the Vikings, that honor belongs to Schenck for the Antlers. The senior logged a whopping 37 carries, accounting for 185 of Elkhorn 310 rushing yards. The 35-yard run during the game-tying drive in the final minutes was an incredibly impressive — and clutch — play, and no matter how many times the Viking defense stuffed him he popped right back up and kept running hard.

Schenck also plays a big role in the back end on defense at safety, and he was the one who picked off the pass near the sideline early in the game, snagging it out of the air with one hand and securing it on his way to the ground.

Elkhorn doesn’t share stats on MaxPreps, but I’d be wiling to bet Schenck is among Class B’s leaders in carries this season. Elkhorn put a lot of responsibility on his shoulders this season and he delivered.

CLASS A

Storm Season

The more I see Elkhorn South play, the more I start to think it might be the most complete team in the state.

The Storm let the Spartans know what they were in for from the very start. After an 8-yard run by Cole Ballard on the first play of the game, quarterback Carson Rauner faked the handoff and kept it himself, running 64-yards untouched to the end zone.

Elkhorn South senior Cole Ballard scores one of his five touchdowns against Lincoln East. Photo by John S. Peterson.

Ballard went on to do the majority of the damage, carrying the ball 17 times for 236 yards and five scores, giving him 38 touchdowns in 10 games this season. He tossed in a. Few big hits on defense for good measure from his safety spot.

The Spartans had no shot to stop the Storm with a big offensive line and a talented group of skill players. Elkhorn South did not punt until late in the fourth quarter with all their back-ups in the game, going 6-for-7 on third down to that point and moving the chains on fourth down on the one they didn’t convert.

Ballard is one of the best backs in the state and Elkhorn South has a good group of receivers and a solid quarterback, but what makes them truly special is the defensive line. Nebraska legacy commit Maverick Noonan, Noah Bustard, Ashton Murphy and Henry Prohazka (the younger brother of current Husker Teddy Prochazka) all made multiple splash plays, and East rarely had anywhere to run either up the middle or around the end. 

Noonan had 1.5 sacks by my count plus another tackle for loss or two while also paving the way at right tackle for some of Ballard’s big runs.

It’s going to take a special effort to knock off the Story this season.

East’s Season Ends

East being named the Spartans was apt on Friday night. They battled all night, but they were simply out-gunned. 

Nebraska commits Maverick Noonan (75) and Malachi Coleman (3) collide in the trenches. Photo by John S. Peterson.

They went into the game without their starting quarterback in sophomore Jeter Worthley, a Michigan baseball commit. Junior Dash Bauman, the team’s leading rusher and a talented linebacker, got knocked out of the game when he got absolutely crushed on a halfback pass (which he completed downfield to Malachi Coleman). Two-way starter Carter Tempelmeyer had a couple of catches and a tackle early but left the game with a shoulder injury after breaking up a pass in the end zone and hitting the ground hard.

Junior Owen Laessig did what he could at quarterback under heavy pressure, going 23-for-39 for 233 yards and three touchdowns without the aid of a running game (East finished with minus-40 yards on the ground), in his first start of the season.

The half-back pass to Coleman went for 34 yards, but it proved to be his only catch of the game. He drew plenty of targets but the Spartans just couldn’t quite get him the ball, which was sadly more or less the story of his senior season. The new Husker commit finished with 31 catches for 475 yards and six touchdowns in eight games. 

The next time Coleman suits up on the football field will be at the All-American Bowl in San Antonio, Texas, on Jan. 7.

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