The South Showdown on Friday night turned into a classic as Elkhorn South held on to beat Millard South 31-28 at Elkhorn Stadium.
Here are five thoughts on the game.
Ballard the Bruiser
Cole Ballard is one of the best running backs in the state, and he’s kicked off his senior season with back-to-back 100-yard games. After totaling 146 yards and two scores on 22 touches in a week one win at Lincoln Southeast (125 yards and a score rushing, 21 and a score receiving), Ballard followed that up with 134 yards on 28 touches in the Storm’s home opener.
Ballard did the bulk of his damage on the ground, running the ball 26 times for 117 yards and three touchdowns. He really had to work for those yards against a tough Patriot defensive front, however. Eighteen of Ballard’s carries went for 3 yards or less. However, the Storm kept hammering away with their workhorse back and and it paid off.
Ballard broke off a 43-yard run for the first touchdown of the game. He also scored twice from the red zone, running nearly untouched into the end zone on the first one then running through a defender at the 1 and knocking him back into the end zone on the other.
The 6-foot, 190-pound back runs with both patience and power, showcasing good footwork and a refusal to go down easily. He’s also a hard-hitting safety who made a number of plays in the back end on Friday night.
Next Man Up
Camden Kozeal, a Vanderbilt baseball commit, threw for 300 yards and three touchdowns in a 24-point rivalry win against Millard West in week one. The Patriots had to play without him in week two, however, as he was in Fort Myers, Florida, for the USA Baseball U18 National Team training camp.
New coach Ty Wisdom knew there was a strong possibility he’d be without his starting quarterback for a good chunk of the season, however, and was prepared. He turned to one of the best athletes on the team to fill in for Kozeal: senior Brock Murtaugh.
Murtaugh typically plays wide receiver and safety for the Patriots, but they needed him behind center on Friday and he gave the patriots a chance against a quality opponent. I had Murtaugh finishing 17-of-33 for 271 yards and three touchdowns and he added 39 yards on the ground while alternating between drop-back passing and running the option.
At 6-foot-2 and 200 pounds, Murtaugh is a physical runner who picked up some tough yardage. A handful of his incompletions were drops as well. He converted two fourth downs and one third down with his legs and completed two long passes on third down as well, one to move the chains and one for a touchdown.
I’m sure the Patriots would love to have both players on the field, but I think the Patriots will be just fine with Murtaugh running the show until Kozeal returns.
The Storm fielded a pretty methodical offense last season, one that relied heavily upon Ballard to move the ball. However, new starting quarterback Carson Rauner has added a new dimension to the Storm’s attack.
The 6-foot-3, 190-pound junior had a big day on Friday, going 10-for-18 for 241 yards and a touchdown. After averaging over 18 yards per completion last weekend, he cleared 24 yards on Friday as half of his completions went for 30 yards or more.
Rauner had completions of 33, 30, 61 and 37 yards plus touchdown passes of 37 and 43 yards. He shows good touch on his intermediate and deep passes. He also had a key 14-yard pass on third-and-8 with less than four minutes to go that helped the Storm burn another two minutes and change off the clock before punting back to Millard South with under a minute to play.
Senior Jackson Moeller Swan, the receiver on that final third-down conversion who finished with four catches for 60 yards after a roster performance in week one, leads a deep group of pass-catchers as five different wideouts recorded a reception of 30 yards or more.
Elkhorn South can still grind out the tough yards on the ground with Ballard, but their passing game is a real threat now too with Rauner and Moeller Swan leading the way.
Protection Held Up
Friday’s game featured two of the best pass-rushers in the state in Elkhorn South senior Maverick Noonan (a Nebraska commit) and Millard South senior Lance Rucker (a North Dakota commit), and both made their presence felt early with a couple of splash plays. However, neither one recorded a sack as the offensive lines generally held up in pass protection most of the night.
I’ve seen Noonan single-handedly swing games multiple times, but Friday was a relatively quiet night for him, to which I credit the Millard South offensive line and its protection plan. In fact, it was another Elkhorn South defensive lineman who stepped up in the closing seconds as junior Henry Prochazka, the younger brother of Nebraska offensive tackle Teddy Prochazka, blew through the line on the penultimate play of the game and blasted Murtaugh as he was trying to fire the ball downfield, forcing an incompletion with five seconds left.
Millard South needed a completion on that play to have any chance at taking the lead, as their final pass fell incomplete as time expired, well short of scoring range.
Dynamic Deep Threats
Elkhorn South wasn’t the only team that ripped off some big plays on Friday. Murtaugh also had completions of 40 yards for a touchdown, 41 yards, 19 yards for a touchdown, 40 yards for a touchdown, 20 yards and 33 yards.
Murtaugh’s favorite target was Austin Trotter, a 6-foot-2 basketball player who decided to go out for football as a senior. Trotter is a terrific athlete with good size for a wide receiver, and the Patriots looked to use him on both deep passes and underneath throws. He finished with five catches for 103 yards and a touchdown.
Trotter did show some of his inexperience and had a few rough drops throughout the game, but he bounced back to make the best catch of the night, plucking the ball from between two defenders for a gain of 33 yards as flags flew for defensive pass interference. He also had a 40-yard touchdown where he broke a tackle immediately after securing the ball and walked into the end zone.
Another name to keep an eye on is Amarion Jackson, a 6-foot-1 wideout who is starting for the Patriots as a freshman. He only caught two passes, but they were big ones. First, he made a 41-yard grab in the second quarter that set the Patriots up at the 10-yard line. After a holding penalty on what would have been a touchdown set Millard South up with a third-and-18 from the 19-yard line, Murtaugh dropped back and found Jackson for the touchdown to pull the Patriots within three of the Storm.
Jacob is in his third year with Hail Varsity covering Husker athletics. He has also written extensively for SB Nation’s Bright Side of the Sun and The Creightonian. His love of basketball can best be described as an obsession and if you need to find him, he’s probably in a gym somewhere watching, coaching or playing hoops.