A SEASON ON THE PLAINS — We spent most of today rolling through the recorder on our phone from a season full of football we never thought we’d get and it leads us to the final rankings of the football season. And, of course, picks that are sure to go wrong.
What’s it take to win a state championship? We thought maybe our phone could have the answer.
Sure, it will take some luck. It will most definitely take getting all of your players healthy through to Lincoln. You’ll have plenty of adversity so it will take players and coaches that are calm through that storm and leaders to weather it without getting frustrated.
Yeah, it’s going to take many things to go your way. Let’s see what our phone dug up.
August 28, 2020: “I think we have game players and play makers all around the field. That’s what is special about this team. It’s not just one guy, you saw a whole bunch of guys touch the ball tonight.” — Bennington coach Kam Lenhart
September 4, 2020: “Once we got settled in, we thought we could really pound it on the ground. Some of those four yard runs become 11 or 12 yards. Football is a momentum game. We talk all the time with our kids about just being focused on the next play.” — Ord coach Nate Wells
September 11, 2020: “Today, pregame was a little different atmosphere. Our kids were a little bit quieter than normal and I think they were a little bit more focused in instead of hooting and hollering. They knew this was an opportunity game, a statement game.” — St. Paul coach Rusty Fuller, after a win over Kearney Catholic
September 18, 2020: “The reality of the matter is, we played two top-5 teams and one that’s right there — 6th or 7th. Each one of them were one score games most of the way. We know we can play with anybody. We just have to continue to improve on stuff.” — Waverly coach Reed Mandstedt, after an overtime loss to Northwest. Waverly hasn’t lost since.
September 25, 2020: “Our offensive line, they are back from last year. They are great kids. They get it done. It all starts up front, we all know that.” — Osceola coach Bob Fuller
October 2, 2020: “They worked very hard during the lockdown. One thing about our kids to is that they just don’t get rattled over anything. And, the other thing too, is we just haven’t had a single kid ask a single question about stats. They just want to win on Friday night.” — BDS co-coaches Mark Rotter and Chris Ardissono
October 9, 2020: “Ultimately, that’s what high school football is all about is making plays. Tonight we had kids that did it.” — Aurora coach Kyle Peterson, after a win over then-No. 1 Hastings
October 16, 2020: “You never know when it’s going to end. These seniors, last year, they saw the heartbreak in the guys ahead of them. They were best friends. One of them was my son. To see the heartbreak that they had, they don’t want to experience that again. And, those seniors from last year, they come back and watch every game. They still talk to these guys and help them get ready. I have told them, that’s their legacy.” — Central Valley coach Jess Rother
It’s time for some playoff lessons that will last the rest of your life. On with the rankings.
- Bellevue West (5-0). Last week: 1. No comments this week for the top-8, who had a bye to the round of 16. We’ll let our picks do the commenting.
- Omaha Westside (8-0). Last week: 2.
- Millard South (6-1). Last week: 3.
- Lincoln Southeast (7-0). Last week: 4.
- Elkhorn South (6-1). Last week: 5.
- Omaha Creighton Prep (5-2). Last week: 6.
- Gretna (6-1). Last week: 7.
- Lincoln East (5-2). Last week: 8.
- Kearney (3-4). Last week: 9. Defeated Lincoln Northeast 46-6 in the opening round. Will have Gretna on full alert Friday night.
- North Platte (6-2). Last week: 10. Cruised past Lincoln High 33-13 to get into the round of 16. Can the Dawgs upset Lincoln East?
Round of 16: Bellevue West over Lincoln Southwest; Kearney over Gretna; Elkhorn South over Fremont; Lincoln Southeast over Columbus; Millard South over Millard West; Millard North over Creighton Prep; Lincoln East over North Platte; Omaha Westside over Grand Island. Quarterfinals: Bellevue West over Kearney; Elkhorn South over Lincoln Southeast; Millard South over Millard North; Omaha Westside over Lincoln East. Semifinals: Bellevue West over Elkhorn South; Omaha Westside over Millard South. A Champion: Bellevue West. Sleeper: Can we pick our fourth-ranked team to be a sleeper? Ok, good. We’ll go with Lincoln Southeast.
Comments: We agree with the Class A playoff committee and the participating teams did as well, apparently, as only the only low seed to win was 17th seeded Lincoln Southwest. Will the rest of the bracket be just as chalky? Possible.
- Bennington (8-1). Last week: 2. Badgers have impressive wins over Northwest, Aurora, Elkhorn and Norris. In fact, seven of their eight wins (!!) are over playoff teams. The worry? Tyler Leclair’s injury and if he can come back.
- Elkhorn (7-2). Last week: 4. What an impressive 24-21 win over Omaha Skutt on Thursday. In a loaded field like this, does the calm leadership of Mark Wortman give the Antlers an edge? Maybe. But last names like Young, Christo, Gutschow and Gragert don’t hurt either.
- Omaha Skutt (6-3). Last week: 1. Don’t think Matt Turman won’t learn anything from their latest loss. A run to the finals could go through “the west.” Northwest, then Hastings next week?
- Waverly (7-2). Last week: 6. If defense wins championships, how are we supposed to pick against Waverly, who has a defense that has pitched four shutouts.
- Hastings (7-1). Last week: 8. If Waverly’s defense is the best in the class, the Tigers might have the most potent offense. Coach Charlie Shoemaker excited to get center Justin Musgrave back to quarterback the line.
- Norris (7-2). Last week: 3. How quickly can the Titans bounce back from their loss to Waverly? No time to hang your head in the playoffs.
- Aurora (6-3). Last week: 7. Huskies beat Seward — who took the last playoff spot — on Friday. Now a rematch with Scottsbluff who was their first win of the season. If the Huskies take care of the football, they’ll be a tough out.
- Northwest (5-3). Last week: 5. Not a soul will pick Northwest to beat Skutt. Maybe the mom’s of the players. But, lets make their case. Beat Waverly, who beat Skutt. Check. Ended Aurora’s win streak in week eight? Check. When the Vikings are right, they can beat anyone. They gotta be right the rest of the way.
- Plattsmouth (6-2). Last week: 9. Beat McCook for the tiebreaker to host the 8-9 game. Should be a good one.
- McCook (6-2). Last week: 10. See above.
Round of 16: Bennington over Seward; McCook over Plattsmouth; Aurora over Scottsbluff; Norris over Beatrice; Elkhorn over Omaha Gross Catholic; Waverly over Blair; Omaha Skutt Catholic over Northwest; Hastings over Omaha Roncalli Catholic. Quarterfinals: Bennington over McCook; Norris over Aurora; Elkhorn over Waverly; Skutt over Hastings. Semifinals: Bennington over Norris; Elkhorn over Skutt. B Champion: Elkhorn. Sleeper: Northwest.
Comments: These playoffs are going to be interesting. Thankful for teams who have proved us right most of the season by just leaving that comment there.
- Pierce (8-0). Last week: 1. Could a 19-9 grinder over Wayne be the perfect thing to get Pierce ready for a playoff run?
- Ashland-Greenwood (9-0). Last week: 2. Difficult draw for the Jays who will get the Adams Central, Wayne winner. Health always a key in determining a winner and the Jays will have to stay healthy. Matthew Schuster has been fantastic in the backfield.
- St. Paul (8-1). Last week: 3. Focused senior class. A really good draw. And, maybe this group gets their last game in St. Paul just how they started their senior year — with Pierce. For a trip to Lincoln on the line.
- Kearney Catholic (7-1). Last week: 4. Impressive late season wins over AC and Cozad. An improving running game. All the sudden it looks like Nebraska commit Heinrich Haarberg and the Stars have their eyes on Lincoln.
- Adams Central (7-2). Last week: 5. Breezed by Fillmore Central and this game with Wayne on Friday looks like a double chin strap kind of football game.
- Auburn (7-1). Last week: 6. The Bulldogs are a great story. The good? That 21-20 loss to Ashland-Greenwood in week one. What we question? Only one other win over a playoff team. But, you play who the state gives you.
- Wahoo (7-2). Last week: 7. Defending champions have lost to Ashland-Greenwood and Adams Central. They’ll open the playoffs at home against Mitchell.
- Wayne (6-3). Last week: 8. No demotion for playing Pierce closer than anyone this year — a 19-9 loss on Friday.
- Lincoln Christian (7-1). Last week: 9. We said it the last two weeks, we’ll say it again. An 8-1 Lincoln Christian would be a great playoff story. Well, bummer. Christian finishes 7-1 since Nebraska City had to cancel their week nine game.
- Gothenburg (6-3). Last week: NR. In come the Swedes with losses to Cozad, Kearney Catholic and St. Paul, but winners of five in a row. Won the western most C-1 district that included wins over playoff qualifiers Mitchell and Chadron. Can settle this ranking with Lincoln Christian in the playoffs.
Round of 16: Ashland-Greenwood over Logan View/Scribner-Snyder; Adams Central over Wayne; Auburn over Battle Creek; Kearney Catholic over Chadron; St. Paul over Cozad; Gothenburg over Lincoln Christian; Wahoo over Mitchell; Pierce over West Point-Beemer. Quarterfinals: Ashland-Greenwood over Adams Central; Kearney Catholic over Auburn; St. Paul over Gothenburg; Pierce over Wahoo. Semifinals: Ashland-Greenwood over Kearney Catholic; Pierce over St. Paul. C-1 Champion: Pierce. Sleeper: Wayne.
Comments: We think that Pierce and A-G may have separated from the pack, but when you look closer this is anyone’s title to win. Could the Wayne, AC winner wreak havoc? You bet. Can Kearney Catholic run the ball consistently enough to get to Lincoln? Sure. Is St. Paul, Pierce a dream semifinal. Absolutely. Can’t wait to see how this one plays out.
- Ord (8-0). Last week: 1. Got the week off as Gibbon had to cancel the regular season finale due to Covid.
- Fremont Bergan (9-0). Last week: 2. You can find out a lot about a team by how they play the week after a big win. So, we take plenty of stock in Bergan’s 48-16 win over Ponca. Knights earned the top seed.
- Oakland-Craig (8-1). Last week: 1. It’s gonna take your best effort to keep the “north Knights” away from Lincoln.
- David City Aquinas (7-2). Last week: 4. The reward for going 7-2 and losing to a pair of top-3 teams, is a road trip to Norfolk to play fifth-ranked NC. Sheesh.
- Norfolk Catholic (6-2). Last week: 5. Norfolk Catholic has beat three playoff teams in the final four weeks of the regular season. That seems good. Is that good?
- Sutton (6-2). Last week: 6. It’s been a crazy October for Sutton, who lost three games to Covid, but got a non-counter against Ord and then were able to reschedule their Sandy Creek game to Monday. ‘Stangs get a home game with North Platte St. Pat’s on Friday.
- Yutan (8-1). Last week: 8. Impressive win over Centennial and the lone loss is to Bergan week one. If they get by Centura it could be two rematches to get to Lincoln. We know how much the Chieftains like November right?
- Wilber-Clatonia (6-1). Last week: 9. Beat Lincoln Lutheran 27-13 and earned the fifth seed. How tough was the C2-1 district? Four of six teams are in the 16-team field.
- Hartington Cedar Catholic (7-2). Last week: 7. Lost to Norfolk Catholic 14-10 on Friday to draw the 11-seed. Your destination is in a different time zone. How many memories will their be from a 392 mile, 6 hour, 20 minute, one-way trip to Bridgeport? A whole bunch. The beauty of the playoffs.
- North Platte St. Pat’s (7-1). Last week: NR. Finally caving in to the Irish this week as they have won five in a row and have a win over Bridgeport and Centura who is also a playoff qualifier. The Centurions bumped GICC from this spot with a 15-12 win on Friday.
Round of 16: Fremont Bergan over Lincoln Lutheran; Sutton over North Platte St. Pat’s; Wilber-Clatonia over Grand Island CC; Yutan over Centura; Oakland-Craig over Crofton; Hartington Cedar Catholic over Bridgeport; Norfolk Catholic over Aquinas; Ord over Bishop Neumann. Quarterfinals: Fremont Bergan over Sutton; Wilber-Clatonia over Yutan; Oakland-Craig over Hartington Cedar Catholic; Ord over Norfolk Catholic. Semifinals: Fremont Bergan over Wilber-Clatonia; Oakland-Craig over Ord. C-2 Champion: Oakland-Craig. Sleeper: Could Sutton — finalists last year — upset Bergan? And, if so, why couldn’t they beat ANYONE.
Comments: This class feels as if it may have seven first round winners that feel pretty good. Aquinas and Norfolk Catholic will be fantastic football. After that, you can seriously make a case for the remaining eight teams at that point. We lean Oakland-Craig over Ord (but, gosh, Ord is so great) as the Knights could be in line to host. And on a semifinal night that may include Skutt, Elkhorn and Pierce, St. Paul and Cross County, Burwell that game may be the one the rankings picks to see up close. In a class loaded with teams (and towns) that are so great and love their football, it’s a shame only one gets to be the champ.
- Burwell (9-0). Last week: 1. If there is an 8-man game that should be on your must watch list on Friday it’s Gideon v. Spiers at 5:30 in Howells. Two of the top coaches in the state and the class.
- Cross County (9-0). Last week: 2. No one looks quite as focused as the Cougars. Road trip to Cambridge this week.
- Dundy County-Stratton (8-0). Last week: 3. Your destination is in a different time zone. The Tigers season takes a trip to Nebraska City for a round of 16 game with Lourdes. Lots of team bonding time for this one: 11 hours worth. Doesn’t get much better than that.
- Wakefield (7-0). Last week: 4. Beat five playoff teams and three that advanced to the round of 16. Their final ranking dependent on Stanton, LHNE and Laurel-Concord-Coleridge.
- Tri-County (8-0). Last week: 5. Hard luck for the Trojans. Their forfeit win over Southern in first round made them a “host” and now they will travel to Laurel as the No. 1 overall seed.
- Lutheran High Northeast (8-1). Last week: 6. A 50-22 win over Elmwood-Murdock in round one and they bring another southeast Nebraska team to Norfolk on Friday when they host Weeping Water.
- Neligh-Oakdale (8-1). Last week: 7. There 62-18 win over Nebraska Christian made more impressive after we saw the Eagles beat Hemingford on Friday. Hi-Line next.
- Arcadia-Loup City (6-3). Last week: 8. The tough-minded Rebels get a Stanton team that can put up points at a dizzying pace. After opening win on the road, ALC gets to host.
- Stanton (7-1). Last week: 9. Their 81 points in opening round win over Exeter-Milligan/Friend the most in an 8-man first round game last week. This game with ALC should be fantastic.
- Elm Creek (8-1). Last week: 10. Buffaloes and Nebraska Christian another really great matchup on Friday night.
Round of 16: Tri-County over Laurel-Concord-Coleridge; Lutheran High Northeast over Weeping Water; Arcadia-Loup City over Stanton; Dundy County-Stratton over Lourdes Central Catholic; Burwell over Howells-Dodge; Neligh-Oakdale over Hi-Line; Elm Creek over Nebraska Christian; Cross County over Cambridge. Quarterfinals: Tri-County over LHNE; DCS over Arcadia-Loup City; Burwell over Neligh-Oakdale; Cross County over Elm Creek. Semifinals: DCS over Tri-County; Cross County over Burwell. D-1 Champion: Cross County. Sleeper: Arcadia-Loup City in the finals would not shock us.
Comments: Mercy D-1 could go 1,000 different ways. And, while we have Burwell as No. 1 based on their title game appearance last year and perfect season so far, we are going to switch it up a little and take No. 2 Cross County to win it all, based a little on getting to host that game should our picks play out. No. 3 Dundy County-Stratton is the other finalist, but a quarterfinal game with Stanton or ALC is a tough draw as is top-seed Tri-County.
- BDS (8-0). Last week: 1. Blanked Elgin Public/Pope John in the opening round. Re-seed as the No. 2 statewide and travel to play Ansley-Litchfield this week.
- Osceola (8-0). Last week: 2. As we feared, the Bulldogs — who blitzed Pender 52-0 — drew the 8-seed in the re-shuffle, but, quite frankly better than playing BDS in the quarterfinals which would have happened in the old east-west bracket. Now, it can at least happen in Lincoln.
- Central Valley (8-0). Last week: 3. Cougars rolled past Blue Hill in the opening round and also draw a road game at once-ranked Medicine Valley (8-1) in the round of 16. Nothing better than a late October bus ride.
- Falls City Sacred Heart (7-1). Last week: 4. Irish have destroyed everything in their path except BDS. And, the only issue with being the top seed is that Osceola or Humphrey St. Francis awaits. Road trip to Creighton for the 1-16 game.
- Sandhills/Thedford (9-0). Last week: 8. S/T beat Axtell 68-22 in the opening round. Now, they can ask the Wildcats for some Loomis game film. Wolves, who beat Leyton, come to Thedford and beat Axtell by exact same margin in regular season, 36-0.
- Kenesaw (7-1). Last week: 6. Back-to-back wins over Palmer advances the tough Devils to the round of 16. Long road trip to Allen coming up Friday.
- Humphrey St. Francis (8-1). Last week: 7. The defending champions get a difficult draw with Osceola in the round of 16. But, they get to host. They have done this before. They have one of the best coaches in the class. They haven’t missed the playoffs since 1994.
- O’Neill St. Mary’s (9-0). Last week: 8. Cardinals are a bit under the radar and now they have a week seven rematch with Bloomfield, who they beat 36-30.
- Loomis (8-1). Last week: 9. Rolled past Leyton, but that trip to Thedford on Friday is a really big ask. Coach Denis Reese retiring after 39 season at Loomis — one of the great 8-man coaches in the state.
- Allen (7-0). Last week: 10. Eagles stay here with a 46-20 first round win over Johnson-Brock and now we get to give them a full grade as they get Kenesaw in the round of 16.
Round of 16: Falls City SH over Creighton; Osceola over Humphrey St. Francis; Sandhills/Thedford over Loomis; Pleasanton over Wynot; Central Valley over Medicine Valley; St. Mary’s over Bloomfield; Kenesaw over Allen; BDS over Ansley-Litchfield. Quarterfinals: Osceola over FSCH; S/T over Pleasanton; Central Valley over St. Mary’s; BDS over Kenesaw. Semifinals: Osceola over S/T; BDS over Central Valley. D-2 Champion: Bruning-Davenport/Shickley. Sleeper: Falls City Sacred Heart (seems weird).
Comments: While, we’d love to see BDS and Osceola meet in Lincoln there are a load of great teams who will have a say in this thing. How about the tradition the Bulldogs would have to beat to advance? And, in these predictions Osceola would have to do it without playing a single home game. The Casey’s on Highway 92 would approve. Central Valley and BDS could also be an all out semifinal war.
- McCool Junction (8-0). Last week: 1. Warmed up for the playoffs on Friday by beating 12th seeded — and once ranked — Dorchester, 68-6.
- Sterling (7-0). Last week: 2. Had playoff tune-up with Meridian cancelled due to Covid. Fourth seed in the bracket, just where we need them. Opposite McCool Junction.
- Potter-Dix (8-0). Last week: 4. Yotes — who won two games the past three years — rolled past then-No. 5 Creek Valley, 66-13. Most impressive team in the west, no doubt.
- Red Cloud (7-0). Last week: 5. Beat Silver Lake 37-20. Have only beat one team with a winning record. Need to be on high alert against Dorchester in the first round.
- Spalding Academy (7-1). Last week: NR. Taking a flyer here on the Rocks, who blanked then-No. 3 Stuart 42-0 on Thursday. Get Creek Valley on the road (see below) in the 8-9 game in the playoffs.
- Creek Valley (6-2). Last week: 6. Hard to move CV, due to the win over Arthur County, but a brutal draw with Spalding Academy in the first round.
- Arthur County (6-2). Last week: 7. Wolves played five of eight games against Division 1 opponents, so they are definitely ready for the playoffs. Top seed gets Pawnee City first.
- Cody-Kilgore (4-2). Last week: 8. Beat Hay Springs 40-28, but most impressive win is against Paxton in week one. The Cowboys draw Stuart — who we dropped from the rankings — who beat C-K 20-18 win week three. So, it’s good news they get to settle in on the field on Friday.
- Paxton (6-2). Last week: 10. Tigers have won five in a row. Their reward for a 30-24 win over SEM last week? A first round rematch at home.
- Sumner-Eddyville-Miller (5-2). Last week: 9. Just need to flip the result with Paxton to advance in the playoffs.
First round: Arthur County over Pawnee City; Spalding Academy over Creek Valley; Red Cloud over Dorchester; Sterling over Southwest; McCool Junction over Parkview Christian; Paxton over S-E-M; Cody-Kilgore over Stuart; Potter-Dix over Wallace. Quarterfinals: Spalding Academy over Arthur County; Sterling over Red Cloud; McCool Junction over Paxton; Potter-Dix over Cody-Kilgore. Semifinals: Sterling over Spalding Academy; McCool Junction over Potter-Dix. D-6 Champion: McCool Junction. Sleeper: Stuart.
Comments: Could see any of Creek Valley, Spalding Academy and Arthur County advancing to semifinals. And, Stuart on the bottom could cause a little havoc as well. But, we think Sterling and McCool Junction have created some separation from the field.