Teddy Prochazka’s future in Lincoln lies at offensive tackle, but the biggest play the Nebraska commit made on Friday night was on the defensive side of the ball.
Elkhorn South led Kearney 10-3 with 2:10 remaining in the game. The Bearcats had the ball at midfield but faced a fourth-and-9. With the game on the line, the Elkhorn South coaches sent the 6-foot-9 Prochazka in at defensive end. Before the snap, Kearney shifted its offensive line to the left in a variation of the swinging gate, drawing a timeout from the Storm coaches.
After the break, Kearney ran the same play, and Elkhorn South was ready for it this time. When Kearney quarterback Preston Pearson took the snap and rolled out, he wouldn’t find anyone open and then suddenly Prochazka was in his face.
“Our coaches say if you get a good get-off, great strike, you’re going to most likely win the play,” Prochazka said. “I saw him rolling out, open gap, got across his face, went and I wrapped up. I knew I had missed a sack earlier in the night and I wanted to make up for that, so I grabbed on pretty tight and just threw him down.”
Once Prochazka hopped up off the turf, he celebrated in the only way a future Husker should.
“The next thing that popped in my head — ‘Throw the bones; here’s your chance, do it,’” Prochazka said. “So I threw ‘em and then I knew it was up to our offense. We were going to win the game.”
The fourth-down sack turned the ball back over to the Storm, and two runs by sophomore Cole Ballard later, Elkhorn South had a new set of downs an the ability to run out the clock by taking a knee a couple of times.
With the 10-3 victory, the fifth-seeded Storm earned its first berth in the Class A state championship game. Prochazka and his fellow seniors will get a chance to go out on top next week.
“It’s so special,” Prochazka said. “Oh my gosh. Freshman year I remember coming in and we were a powerhouse in Class B, winning state championships back-to-back. I knew we were going to Class A and it was our mission, we’re going to be the senior class to do it, we’re going to get to the state championship, and to have it come to fruition is crazy.”
Both defenses came to play on the cold, windy night at Elkhorn Stadium. Kearney stopped Elkhorn South short on fourth down twice and forced two punts in the first half, and the Storm missed a short field goal just before halftime to head into the break scoreless. Making things even tougher on the Storm offense, senior quarterback Dylan Krause had to be helped off the field after a run late in the first half and did not return. Junior Will Skradis took his place.
Kearney kicker James Dakan knocked through a 40-yard field goal on Kearney’s opening possession, and that proved to be the only points of the half. Elkhorn South’s defense picked it up from there, forcing and recovering fumbles on Elkhorn South’s next two drives. Kearney’s last drive of the half ended in a punt. Despite the offense’s struggles, Elkhorn South wasn’t panicking at halftime.
“We just talked about ‘Hey, you need to be resilient,’” Elkhorn South coach Guy Rosenberg. “We felt we needed to match Kearney’s energy, exceed their physicality, but we didn’t want to get caught up in emotion. We figured it’d be a four-quarter game, a four-quarter-plus game, but we just needed to keep our poise, play our game … We just knew if we were us, continued to take care of the football, continued to play great defense and be physical that the score would take care of itself.”
Rosenberg was right. After Kearney got the better of the Storm in the trenches in the first half, Elkhorn South asserted control in the second. The Storm forced a three-and-out on the first possession then marched down the field with a nine-play, 51-yard drive. Forty of those yards came on the ground, though Elkhorn South wasn’t able to punch the ball in on third-and-goal from the 5. The Storm settled for a 20-yard field goal from Carsen Crouch, the son of former Husker Heiman winner Eric Crouch.
Another Kearney three-and-out thanks to back-to-back Storm sacks and a rough punt gave Elkhorn South a short field at the Kearney 40-yard line. Eight plays later, Ballard punched the ball in from 1 yard out for the game’s only touchdown. The Storm kept the ball on the ground the entire drive and took a 10-3 lead with 1:05 remaining in the third quarter.
“We probably ran it 30 times in the second half and we just punched it down their throat,” Ballard said. “Hats off to our line. They’re the best o-line in the state and it just worked.”
Elkhorn South forced a punt on the next drive, then both sides came up short on fourth-down conversion attempts. Kearney gave itself one last chance, forcing an Elkhorn South punt with just under four minutes to play, but the Bearcats’ drive went nowhere, capped by Prochazka’s game-sealing sack.
Skradis completed quick swing passes on Elkhorn South’s first two plays of the half, then Ekhorn South ran the ball the rest of the game — 27 times for 111 yards before lining up in victory formation.
Ballard did the majority of the damage for the Storm, carrying the ball 31 times for 119 yards and a touchdown.
“He just plays with poise beyond his years,” Rosenberg said. “He’s a warrior and I’m just proud to walk out on the field with him. Great player and a great kid.”
Kearney quarterback Preston Pearson totaled 121 yards — 76 through the air and 45 on the ground to lead the Bearcat offense. Kearney finished .500 on the year but played one of the toughest schedules in the state with games against Lincoln Southeast, Omaha Westside and Bellevue West. The ninth-seeded Bearcats knocked off No. 8 Gretna in the first round of the playoffs then shocked No. 1 Bellevue West in the quarterfinals, avenging a 49-14 regular season loss with a 41-40 overtime win.
“The schedule that Kearney has played, and they were playing as well as anybody in the state,” Rosenberg said. “They’re very innovative with their schemes and did some things we needed to adjust to. Hats off to Coach Cool and his staff and his team. They’re warriors and we’ve got the utmost respect for them.”
Between Krause and Skradis, Elkhorn South completed 11-of-13 passes for 78 yards and ran the ball 50 times for 161 yards. Without factoring in penalties, the Storm limited the Bearcats to just 147 total yards from scrimmage including 71 yards rushing on 26 carries.
Rosenberg said Skradis stepped in and did an “amazing job” after Krause went down, but the coach didn’t think Krause’s injury was too serious and is hoping to get him back for the championship game.
“I’m just extremely proud of our players, our seniors,” Rosenberg said. “Our motto is ‘Whatever it takes,’ and they did this year, in this crazy year, whatever it took to get to Lincoln. I just think that those opportunities are so rare. Everybody starts off the year fighting and scrapping and having a dream of going there. Now it’s down to two in Class A and I couldn’t be prouder of our team, all the sacrifices they made to get here.”
The Storm will face No. 2 Omaha Westside in the final, but it won’t be in Lincoln at Memorial Stadium. Following the COVID-19-related directed health measures issued by Governor Pete Ricketts on Friday limiting events and athletics in Lincoln, the NSAA announced that the State Football Championships — excluding Six-Man — will take place at home sites. The higher seed will host, meaning Elkhorn South will face the Warriors at Phelps Field on Friday.