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Irish Eyes

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How many coaches can say they’ve won a state championship in basketball in each of the past five decades?

Can’t be too many. But there’s at least one who’s done it, and he’s going for his 11th state basketball title on Saturday.

For some, Doug Goltz is considered the godfather of small-town high school sports in Nebraska. He’s guided the Falls City Sacred Heart Irish to 10 state basketball championships that span from 1988 to 2020, and he’s knocking on the door yet again.

“It means I’m old,” a humble Goltz said following his team’s 60-49 win over Humphrey St. Francis in the Class D-2 semifinals at Pinnacle Bank Arena in Lincoln.

Goltz isn’t old — he’s experienced. Seasoned. He’s learned and seen a lot over the years and coached with and against a lot of people. That includes the head coach on the other bench Thursday — Eric Kessler.

Falls City Sacred Heart coach Doug Goltz will try for his 12th state basketball title on Saturday. (nebpreps photo / Steve Marik)

Kessler graduated from St. Francis in 1994 and has coached the Flyers’ boys basketball and football teams since 2003. Sacred Heart and St. Francis — two uber successful programs — have history playing each other in postseason basketball and football. The Irish beat the Flyers in the 2020 D-2 basketball championship, and got past them again on Thursday.

But the rivalry runs deeper on the gridiron.

Sacred Heart is 6-5 against St. Francis in the postseason since 1989, but the Flyers have taken five of the last seven games. Goltz even coached against Kessler when he played for the Flyers back in the early 1990s.

“For me, we lost three times to them to end the season in the semifinals, so I originally did not like Coach Goltz very much,” Kessler said with a laugh. “But over time, competing against him and the respect I have for him is unmatched.

“There’s no one better at both sports, and his record speaks for itself.”

Kessler remembers what it was like to play Sacred Heart back in the day. Not all of them were fond memories. While Kessler was in high school, the Irish were in the middle of winning a state-record 87 consecutive football games and six straight state football championships.

“It was not very fun. That was when they were really good and when they won how many games in a row,” Kessler said. “They were just tremendous.

“I know we went in thinking we were pretty good, then looking back we were like, ‘Holy cow those guys were really good.’ They were so disciplined and things like that. And it’s just continued.”

Humphrey St. Francis coach Eric Kessler encourages his team on Thursday against Falls City Sacred Heart. (nebpreps photo / Steve Marik)

Goltz also presided over what many to consider to be the greatest small school dynasty in Nebraska history in basketball. His teams from 1988 – 1991 won four straight titles led by Steve Simon, still the second all-time scorer in state tournament history.

The Sacred Heart coach said he respects what Kessler has built in Humphrey. They’re similar situations, of course, as both are catholic schools located in small communities. They both coach the children of former players — Sacred Heart has a lot of Froeschls and Simons go through the program while St. Francis has Koschs and Classens and Pfeifers.

Kessler admires the work ethic of Goltz, who’s had a lot on his plate over the years. No matter what he’s doing, Goltz’s teams still perform when they need to.

“It’s amazing what he does,” Kessler said. “He’s got endless energy because he’s the principal, he’s the AD, I know he was coaching track for a while, and he’s done it for a long time.”

And, so, the story of Doug Goltz will add another chapter on Saturday as the Irish gun for their 11th title which would tie them with Wahoo for the most non-Class A titles in state history.

Time stands still — it seems — in Falls City with a coach who never ages. There is a trophy case with five decades of championships to prove it.

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