Elkhorn South rolled past Omaha North on Friday night to complete the regular season with perfect 9-0 record.
Here are five thoughts on the dominant win for the Storm.
Meet Me in the End Zone
Cole Ballard capped off an outstanding senior season with a pair of touchdowns, giving him a Class A-leading 33 total scores this season.
Ballard had a relatively quiet first half as quarterback Carson Rauner accounted for all three of the team’s touchdowns. Ballard ran the ball nine times for 39 yards.
Then he took his first carry of the second 84 yards for a touchdown, showing off a sharp cut, breakaway speed, a nasty hesitation move to squeeze past the final defender and terrific balance to tight-rope walk up the sideline for the last 10 yards into the end zone. He took his next carry 45 yards for another score for good measure.
Ballard finished unofficially with 12 carries for 173 yards and two touchdowns. He went over 1,000 yards for the season on the ground in the first half and will finish with 1,142 yards on 119 carries (good for a 9.6 yards-per-carry average) plus 25 touchdowns. He caught 14 passes for 275 yards (19.6 yards per reception) and four touchdowns. He also returned two punts for touchdowns.
The most impressive part of Ballard’s season is he spent much of the year playing a half or three quarters because the Storm had so many blowouts this season. He’s one of the best offensive weapons in the state and also can make a difference at safety when the Storm need him.
Ballard wasn’t the only dynamic running buck in Friday’s game. Omaha North’s Te’shaun Porter is second in Class A in touchdowns and first in rushing yardage this season, and he turned in his seventh 100-yard rushing game on Friday.
Porter finished with 102 yards on 18 carries. He didn’t have a lot of room to run against Elkhorn South’s ferocious front line, and he had a couple long gains called back by holding penalties, but he still managed to take a third of his carries for 10 yards or more, showing off his elusiveness and toughness.
Porter finished the regular season with 158 carries for 1,356 yards (8.6 yards per carry) and 20 touchdowns. He only caught six passes for 35 yards, but one of them was for a touchdown. He also completed his only pass attempt for a 45-yard score, giving him 22 total touchdowns this season.
Porter committed to Division II power Northwest Missouri State earlier in the week and should have a terrific career down there in Maryville.
I mentioned the big-play ability on the ground with Ballard above, but what makes the Storm so difficult to deal with is the quick-strike ability through the air to complement that terrific running game.
Quarterback Carson Rauner has impressed every time I’ve seen him play, and Friday was no different. He finished 12-of-21 passing for 137 yards and two touchdowns with four carries for 40 yards and another score.
Rauner had completions of 29,25, 23 and 24 yards and also had runs of 12 and 16 yards. He’s averaging better than 10 yards per carry while completing around 65% of his passes for nearly 12 yards per attempt.
Rauner’s favorite target is senior Jackson Moeller Swan, and he showed why on Friday with a 29-yard touchdown on a post route where he cleanly beat his man to get wide open and another 25-yard catch in the end zone where he went over the top of a defender and took the ball away from him.
Junior Luke Hoskinson (of the Husker Hoskinson family) caught five passes for 65 yards including gains of 23 and 24 on his first two touches as well. That matched his season total for catches and surpassed it for yards in one game.
Both Moeller Swan and Hoskinson are averaging better than 20 yards per reception this season.
Twenty-two of the 56 players on North’s varsity roster were freshmen or sophomores on Friday, and a number of them played key roles for the Vikings.
Sophomore defensive lineman/offensive guard Tyson Terry and freshman wide receiver/defensive back/kick returner Khalil “Champ” Davis both hold offers from Nebraska already, and both made some impressive defensive plays against the Storm.
Sophomore Titan Glassman led the team in catches with three of them for 34 yards. Sophomore backs Ostin Townsend and Ronald Starks both ran hard once North pulled its starters on its final drive, totaling 41 yards on eight carries between them.
North’s starting quarterback is just a sophomore as well. Sebastien Circo missed North’s first two games with an injury but returned against Columbus and played very well in North’s five-game winning streak, completed 69% of his passes for 173.8 yards per game and 12 touchdowns with just one interception.
However, the Vikings took a massive step up in competition the last two weeks compared to the first five teams Circo faced, and the passing offense suffered. He completed just 45.1% of his passes the last two weeks and threw seven interceptions with just three touchdowns in losses to Grand Island and Elkhorn South.
Circo went 6-for-16 for 98 yards and two interceptions against the Storm, though that wasn’t all his fault as a few drops contributed. He did show some real arm talent on North’s only touchdown of the game, hitting senior Tre’Vionne Brown deep down the field for a 55-yard strike.
To make a postseason run, North will need Circo to grow up in a hurry and learn from these past two weeks, and the rest of the Viking passing attack will have to perform better as well.
Beyond this season, though, there are a lot of reasons to be excited about Larry Martin’s team with the amount of young players already playing big roles.
Elkhorn South opened the season with a 31-20 win against Lincoln Southeast that saw the Storm pull away late and a 31-28 win against a Millard South team missing its starting quarterback.
Since then, Elkhorn South has given up 14 points or less and scored 41 points or more in every game. A lot of that has to do with the schedule, but the Storm has definitely improved throughout the season. Perhaps their most impressive win came in week seven as they destroyed a good Grand Island team in Grand Island, 42-3. The Islanders finished 7-2 and earned the No. 4 seed in Class A, to show what kind of win that was.
Elkhorn South is the No. 3 seed, behind only Omaha Westside (8-1) and Gretna (9-0), the two teams that played in the state championship game last season. The Storm has a dominant defense led by Nebraska commit Maverick Noonan and fellow senior Noah Bustard up front (both made a big impact on Friday) and a potent, balanced offense featuring Ballard on the ground, Rauner at quarterback and Moeller Swan down field.
Elkhorn South has all the pieces to compete for a Class A title, and their path to the championship begins with a first-round meeting with No. 14 Lincoln East on Friday.
As for the Vikings (6-3), they’re the No. 13 seed and will get a chance to avenge that regular season loss to the Islanders in the first round.
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.