Gretna boasts one of the most explosive offenses in the Metro and that was on full display on Friday night, but it was the defense that took over late and sealed a 31-28 win at Class B perennial power Omaha Skutt at Moylan Field.
Down by three, the SkyHawks were driving late in the fourth quarter until the Dragon defense stiffened up in the red zone, holding Skutt to a 31-yard field goal attempt for the tie. The kick sailed wide.
On the following drive, Gretna picked up 9-and-a-half yards on three plays, setting up a fourth and very short. Gretna lined up to go for it but got whistled for a false start, moving the Dragons back and forcing a punt.
Skutt got the ball back at its own 32-yard line with 2:02 to play and one more shot to tie it up or take the lead. Quarterback Caden Becker dropped back and took deep shots on first and second down, but the Dragons covered both plays well. On third down, Becker found senior wideout Jaden Arkfeld for 12 yards to keep their hopes alive.
Skutt ran the ball with fullback Barrett Liebentritt for 2 yards and running back Sam Scott for 8 yards to move the chains again and cross midfield with just over a minute to go. Then the SkyHawks started going the wrong way.
Gretna stuffed Becker on the next play for a loss of 2 and forced Skutt to call its last timeout with 55 seconds left. Skutt got hit with a holding penalty in the backfield as Becker tried to run it again for a total loss of 18 yards, then the Dragons sacked Becker for a loss of 3 more. After an incomplete pass on third down, the SkyHawks faced a fourth and 33 at their own 31-yard line with 11 seconds left, and an errant snap led to a Gretna fumble recovery with 6 seconds left, sealing the Dragons’ sixth straight win to open the season.
“They were struggling a little bit in the beginning with the run, but on that last drive they definitely clutched up,” Gretna sophomore quarterback Zane Flores said about his defense. “That was big for us.”
MORE: Photos from Gretna-Skutt
Gretna has been playing with a lead all season, but the Dragons faced their first real bit of adversity on Friday as the SkyHawks punched them in the face right out of the gates. Skutt ran a halfback pass on its first play and Scott found Arkfeld for 36 yards, then Scott ripped off a 40-yard touchdown run himself on the next play to give Skutt an early 7-0 lead.
After a Gretna three-and-out, Skutt gave the ball to Skutt again and he tore through the Gretna defense for a 76-yard touchdown run. Gretna found itself trailing 14-0 less than three minutes into the game.
“It’s tough to simulate what a team like Skutt does with the way they run the ball in practice,” Gretna coach Mike Kayl said. “Our kids learned right away how fast they can hit the holes and how hard they run.”
However, led by Flores, the Dragons didn’t fold. Gretna responded with a four-play, 77-yard touchdown drive capped by a 42-yard score from Flores to senior receiver Trevor Marshall. Gretna scored again just before the end of the first quarter, this time on a 49-yard score from Flores to Marshall, and suddenly it was a whole new ball game.
“We got behind and we knew we had to remain calm,” Flores said. “It was all about how we responded. We haven’t been in that position this year, so the way we responded tonight was pretty good.”
Gretna took its first lead on a 31-yard field goal with 5:15 remaining in the first half, but it didn’t last long. On Skutt’s next play, Scott took the handoff and ran to the left sideline, broke a couple tackles to completely reverse field, then beat every Dragon defender to the right pylon for a 66-yard touchdown run.
Ten plays and 83 yards later, Gretna took the lead back as Flores dropped the ball in a bucket to Marshall in the end zone from 16 yards out and the receiver secured the ball and tapped both feet down before his momentum carried him out of bounds. Gretna took a 24-21 lead into halftime.
Flores put on a show in the first half, completing 20 of his 25 passes for 253 yards and three touchdowns. Across the line of scrimmage, Scott did the heavy lifting for the SkyHawks with 11 carries for 225 yards and three touchdowns of his own.
After airing it out in the first half, Gretna changed things up and started pounding the ball right up the middle with junior running back Mick Huber. He picked up 46 yards on his first carry to set the tone then carried the ball five more times on the drive to set his team up at the 1-yard line. Flores finished it off with a quarterback sneak to put the Dragons up 10.
Skutt responded with a 14-play, 64-yard touchdown drive capped off by an easy 1-yard score from Scott, making it 31-28 Gretna with 1:18 remaining in the third quarter.
Scott’s run proved to be the final points of the game as the defenses for both sides finally settled in and made moving the ball difficult.
Gretna was content to keep the ball on the ground in the second half as Flores attempted just five more passes. He finished 22-for-30 for 260 yards and scored four total touchdowns. Marshall caught seven passes for 123 yards and three touchdowns and also ran the ball once for 14 yards. Fellow senior Jackson Alexander caught eight passes 91 yards.
“Those guys are huge,” Flores said. “Trevor and Jackson are huge playmakers. They’re a huge key to this team and them making plays every week, that’s definitely big for us.”
Huber carried the ball 18 times for 153 yards with 102 of those yards coming in the second half.
“That was a goal coming in because we know teams are going to be backing off us, especially with what our two outside receivers have done,” Kayl said. “We’ve got to be able to take advantages of defenses getting stretched out. Mick had a great game, our o-line did a great job and I’m proud of the kids just finishing the game off.”
After his monster first half, Gretna held Scott mostly in check in the second half as he finished with 24 carries for 247 yards and four touchdowns. Liebentritt added 63 yards on nine carries while Arkfeld was on the receiving end of all four completed passes for Skutt, finishing with 75 yards.
The path doesn’t get any easier for the Dragons next week as they close out their season with Elkhorn South (5-1) and Lincoln Southeast (6-0). Getting a win in a close game under their belts should serve the Dragons well as they head into the final stretch of the season.
“We’ve been fortunate — we’ve jumped on teams early in the games and we’ve had some great first quarters,” Kayl said. “That wasn’t a great first quarter, at least defensively. Offensively, we still made some plays and it shows a lot about the kids not folding it up and just giving up in a tough atmosphere against a great team. They wanted to win. I’m proud of their effort there, but definitely a lot to correct … We’re going to try to go help ourselves, but we’re going to face two really good teams coming up.”
Skutt (4-2) will look to bounce back at home against Ralston.
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.