THE CORNER OF HISTORY AND TRADITION — The football field in Howells has seen it’s share of dominating football teams over the years. It saw one again on Friday night in the second round of the Class D-1 playoffs.
Except for the home fans, it was the team on the other sideline: Burwell. The top-ranked Longhorns cruised their way to a 50-14 win over the host Jaguars as they look to return to the state finals for the fifth time in six years.
They did it with a powerful running game, a look that is so familiar on this wonderful piece of sod on the north side of town.
But, after an early Levi Belina — the names don’t change much in Howells — touchdown and an 8-2 first quarter lead, the Longhorns got untracked.
“Teams always give us their best shot right off the bat,” Burwell coach Luke Gideon said. “And, until you get adjusted and play to the speed of the team and get used to it sometimes it takes awhile to get adjusted. I am really proud of our guys, we found some things that started working.”
And, did they ever get adjusted.
They scored their seven touchdowns in an eight possession span in the second and third quarters, the only stop the Jags got was when Jacob Tomcak stole the ball from ‘Horn standout back Caleb Busch.
Busch was completely forgiven when the night was over. He scored six touchdowns — from 11, 18, 45, 9, 51 and 14 yards — and had 287 yards on 31 carries.
Running behind Carter Mann, Jace Ostrom, Tyler Dawe and ends Levi Bode and Alex Gideon, the junior had a heyday.
“They just create huge lanes to rundown,” Busch said. “It’s like running on the interstate. They are so smart. They are physically and mentally better than everybody else. I wouldn’t run to run behind anyone else.”
So, if running the ball is a key to getting your team back to Lincoln it appears these Longhorns have a leg up. Coach Gideon gave high praise to the group up front as well.
“Those guys need a ton of credit,” the coach said. “They are fun to coach and fun to be around. They have such great character and they are tough. We got some tough guys up there. And they are smart. They have a lot of experience, too.”
And, in an 8-man world where eight games is the regular season, the Longhorns are experienced, which also comes with extra practice. The seniors are now 10-3 in the playoffs which counts for something when the leaves start falling off the trees.
Gideon believes it has helped his Longhorns transition through a difficult season of adjustments.
“It was probably to our advantage to play as many games as we did last year,” Gideon said. “We got extra practices, the extra games. I wasn’t worried about experience coming into the season.”
Burwell can play defense, too. A bunch of tough rodeo kids who are quick and can react in a moments notice. On Friday, they made no qualms about lining up all eight defenders within five yards of the line of scrimmage.
The result? 29 rushes for 23 yards for Howells-Dodge.
“We play pretty good pass coverage,” the coach said. “We knew it’d be a long night if we couldn’t stop the run. Our game plan was to stop the run.”
And, then, the ultimate respect for Mike Spiers’ program.
“This team has a ton of tradition over here. They are winners. So you come in here and get a win on their field against a very good football team that we have a ton of respect for makes us feel really confident.”
On a fairly “chalky” round of 16 night, the most surprising result on the scoreboard on Friday night, may have been Grand Island Northwest’s 27-20 win over two-time defending champion Omaha Skutt in the opening round of the wild and crazy Class B bracket.
Leading 7-6 at the half, Northwest took full control behind quarterback Sam Hartman who was over 100 yards rushing and 200 yards passing. Hartman ran for three touchdowns and threw a 57-yard third quarter touchdown to Parker Janky. The Vikings overcame poor field position early, coach Kevin Stein said.
“We fought through some adversity, early,” he said. “And, you worry that we might crumble because they are Skutt. But, our depth in the lines on offense and defense paid off.
“It may not be the best we have played all season, but it was the most resilient we have played all season. We made some big plays.”
On to the quarterfinals against, guess who? Hastings.