Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

TJ Urban, Gage Stenger Power Patriots Past Storm

September 18, 2020

Leading 17-14 on fourth-and-3 with 28 seconds remaining, Millard South coach Andy Means had a decision to make. Attempt a long field goal? Punt it away and try to pin Elkhorn South deep? Or go for it and run out the clock?

Means chose to put the ball in his senior quarterback’s hands, and TJ Urban delivered. The Air Force commit picked up 5 yards on the ground, sealing the victory.

“Put the ball in his hands and see if he can get 3 yards, which we were pretty confident he could do,” Means said. “That’s the kind of player he is. That’s why Air Force wanted him.”

Friday night’s senior night game at Elkhorn Stadium between the two South schools was an old-school, ground-and-pound match-up featuring teams that love to run the ball. Both sides are strong in the trenches, however, and yards on the ground were hard to come by.

The quarterback run game is a huge part of what Millard South does, and Urban rushed for more than 1,200 yards as a junior. However, outside of a couple big runs, the Storm kept him bottled up all night—at least on the ground. The passing game was another story, and Urban made some huge throws to lead the Patriots to victory.

“The key to the game was up front,” Means said. “They kind of at times owned us up front. At times here at the end of the game we did better. We knew that was what it was going to be. We tried to get TJ loose—they were geared for our running game, so we threw the ball and I thought we threw the ball pretty well overall. I thought our special teams played really well. It’s a good hard-fought win, but there were a lot of mistakes we have to clean up.”

Elkhorn South limited Urban to 43 yards on 16 carries, but he completed 11 of his 19 passes for 118 yards and two touchdowns.

“It obviously helped a lot tonight,” Means said about the passing game. “We know teams are going to try to stop the run and they’re going to try to stop him, and he has to be able to throw the ball to loosen defenses, and he was able to do that tonight.”

Millard South struck first in the second quarter with a 21-yard field goal, but the Storm responded with a 19-play, 80-yard grinder of a drive that ended in a 1-yard touchdown plunge by Cole Ballard. The drive chewed up just over nine minutes of clock. An Elkhorn South touchback put the Patriots at their own 20-yard line with 127 seconds until halftime—more than enough time for Urban to answer.

On the first play, he found Antrell Taylor for 43-yard gain. On the next play, he hit tight end Luke Irvine for another 26 yards, though a block-in-the-back penalty moved the Patriots back 15 yards. Urban found junior wide receiver Gage Stenger for 6 more yards down to the 15, and after a couple of runs, a false start and an incomplete pass, Millard South faced third and goal from the 7. Urban took the snap and threw a quick strike to Stenger on the slant for a touchdown with 20 seconds left.

Millard South took a 10-7 lead into halftime.

Both sides struggled offensively early in the third quarter until Elkhorn South took advantage of a short field to put together a drive ending in a 9-yard touchdown from Will Skradis to Koy Wilke.

After a few empty drives, Millard South marched deep into Elkhorn South territory, setting up first-and-goal from the 6-yard line. The Patriots picked up 2 yards on first down and two more on second, but on third down Urban bobbled the snap and barely made it back to the line of scrimmage before going down. Instead of trying to punch it in with another run, however, Millard South put the ball in Urban’s hands and he found Stenger again in the corner of the end zone for the go-ahead touchdown.

After having a big game against Millard North in week one, Stenger caught five passes for 23 yards and two scores against the Storm.

“I love it,” Urban said about having Stenger as an option in the red zone. “I knew he was going to be that since I was a sophomore and he was a freshman. I knew he was coming up and I’m really happy he’s here now. He just finds a way to get open. He’s a tremendous athlete.”

The Millard South defense stiffened up from there to force a turnover on downs and the Patriots ran out the clock to improve to 2-0.

“It’s really good,” Urban said. “They’re a very good, respectful team. Going through the ups and downs of the game was really like handling adversity. I started messing up, I started fumbling a little bit. I just said we have to forget about the last play and I talked to my coach, ‘We’re going to open it up; now it’s time to go.’”

Urban had two fumbles in addition to the bobbled snap that preceded the touchdown, and he also had a dropped interception on that same drive, but he overcame the mistakes and made enough plays to win the game.

“Hats off to Millard South,” Elkhorn South coach Guy Rosenberg said. “They’re an outstanding, extremely well-coached program. I thought our defense played a great game tonight. Millard South’s a very explosive, multi-dimensional, creative offense and I thought that Coach [James] Kerwin and our defensive coaches did an outstanding job of putting together a plan and our players just played extremely hard. I told them it’s OK to be bitterly disappointed with how hard they worked and the fact that we weren’t able to finish the job. But I said not a single one of our guys should walk off the field with their head down or shoulders slumped. They should all have their chins up because we’re going to get back in the lab and get where we need to be and make those extra plays that we need to to finish the job.”

Elkhorn South fell to 1-1 after beating a talented Millard West team on a game-winning field goal by Carson Crouch, the son of former Husker Eric Crouch. Two weeks, two nail-biters for the Storm.

“People that were starved for football are certainly getting their money’s worth,” Rosenberg said. “I don’t think the concessions stands are open but they would have sold a little bit more popcorn these last two weeks.”

Elkkhron South has had to battle through its own adversity early in the season as the Storm had to play without two standout defensive players who also contribute on offense in linebackers Makhi Nelson-Douglas (a Northern Illinois commit) and Bo Wieseler.

“The thing I’ve been most proud of throughout this whole thing is our kids have encountered adversity and when they have, they’ve answered the bell,” Rosenberg said. “The next man has been ready to go. I’m just a big believer that this season, particularly the teams with the most coached up depth are going to be successful in the long run. I feel like our players are every coachable and all of our guys throughout the roster are working hard and that’s going to pay off for them and for the team.”

Jaxson Jorth filled in for Nelson-Douglas while Eli Small filled Wieseler’s spot. Offensively, junior Ben Warren started at running back and carried the ball four times on the first drive, but Ballard, a sophomore, took the bulk of the carries the rest of the first half. He finished with 19 carries for 76 yards and two receptions for 16 yards. Warren returned to the lineup for the second half and finished with 13 carries for 51 yards.

Next up for the Patriots is a rivalry game against Millard West while the Storm will play at Millard North.

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