After last year saw the state football finals played on campuses because of COVID-19 restrictions, the championship games returned to Memorial Stadium in 2021 with D1, D2 and B on Monday.
C1, C2 and A will follow on Tuesday. Cody-Kilgore defeated Potter-Dix 65-37 in the D6 final at UNK on Friday to kick things off.
Greg Smith will bring your five thoughts from the Class B final, but here are some standout players and performers from the smaller class games.
Class D1: No. 5 Howells-Dodge 42, No. 10 Cross County 12
Howells-Dodge controlled the line of scrimmage start to finish to complete a 13-0 season and capture the D-1 title.
Howells-Dodge forced four punts, three turnovers (two fumble recoveries, one interception) and two turnovers on downs to limit the Cougars to two touchdowns. The Jaguars led 26-0 before the first Cross County score, and unlike their regular season meeting, there was no fourth-quarter comeback to make it interesting.
The star of the show for Howells-Dodge was senior Levi Belina, who ran the ball 23 times for 153 yards and four touchdowns and also added a 6-yard passing touchdown.
The most impressive play of the game, however, happened late in the first quarter. A fumble started a Cougar drive in the red zone, and a great run from quarterback Shayden Lundstrom set Cross County up with first-and-goal at the 1. The Jaguars stuffed the Cougars on first down, then on second, Howells-Dodge’s nose tackle blew up the center and senior safety Blake Sindelar exploded through the hole to essentially take the handoff.
Howells-Dodge turned Sindelar’s forced and recovered fumble into eight points the other way thanks to a 44-yard touchdown run and a two-point conversion, both by Belina. Sindelar, a standout basketball player for the Jaguars, tied for the team lead with nine tackles and also added a pass break-up.
Senior lineman Evan Haas also had eight tackles and a forced fumble, and he blocked a punt to set the Jaguars up inside the Cross County 10, leading to another Belina score on the next play.
Carter Seim led Cross County with 11 carries for 97 yards. Both touchdowns were through the air, one from Lundstrom and the other from Haiden Hild, both seniors. Lundstrom led the defensive effort with nine tackles and an interception while senior Cory Hollinger matched him with nine tackles on defense and scored Cross County’s second touchdown, high-pointing the ball over a defender in the end zone for a 25-yard reception.
Class D2: No. 7 Kenesaw 46, No. 1 Sandhills/Thedford 40
The second game of the day proved to be a thriller, but thanks to a superhuman effort by Tyson Denkert, the Blue Devils pulled off the upset to take home the D2 title and finish off an undefeated season.
Denkert ran the ball 55 times for 303 yards and six touchdowns, completed one pass for 11 yards and returned four kickoffs for 85 yards. He kicked off for the Blue Devils, reaching the end zone on three of his seven kicks. He also led the way defensively with 18 tackles, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery.
Kenesaw took it to Sandhills/Thedford in the first half, racing out to a 30-8 lead midway through the second-quarter after Denkert’s fourth rushing touchdown of the first half.
But Sandhills/Thedford didn’t fold. The Knights scored, forced a three-and-out then scored again just before halftime to make it a 30-24 at the break. Then Sahndhills/Thedford opened the second half with a 61-yard rushing touchdown from Reece Vutavern on the first play and converted the two-point play to take the lead. Freshman quarterback/defensive back Kyle Cox picked off Denkert on the ensuing drive and Zutavern scored on the first play of the Sandhills/Thedford drive again, this time from 17 yards out.
The Knights took a 40-30 lead, and when Zutavern and Dane Pokorny tackled Denkert in the backfield on fourth-and-goal from the 4 with just under six minutes to play in the third, things looked bleak for the Blue Devils.
But the defense stepped up and stuffed Zutavern on fourth-and-1 at the Sandhills/Thedford 16, a risky call that backfired. It took Denkert six carries, but eventually he punched it in for the touchdown to make it 40-38 with 1:36 remaining in the period.
Afer a three-and-out by the Knights, Kenesaw put together a 15-play, 62-yard touchdown drive. Denkert ran the ball 12 times and complete one pass during that drive, amounting for ll but 4 of the yards, and he also ran the two-point try in to make it 46-40 Kenesaw with just over five minutes to go.
Kenesaw steadily moved the ball down the field on the ensuing drive, reaching the Kenesaw 2-yard line. However, two straight tackles for loss then a holding penalty backed the Knights up, and Joel Katzberg broke up Cox’s fourth-down pass. Kenesaw ran out the clock from there.
Denkert earned MVP honors, but Zutavern had a phenomenal game as well for Sandhills/Thedford, who finished 12-1. The senior ran the ball nine times for 177 yards and four touchdowns and caught one pass for 25 yards. He also recorded a game-high 21 tackles including half a tackle for loss. Fellow senior Dane Pokorny added 17 tackles (0.5 for loss) and ran the ball 25 times for 111 yards.
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.