In Ord, playing football in November has become as common as TikTok videos and hunting on weekends.
The Chanticleers are in the state semifinals for the fourth time in five years. They were Class C-1 runners-up in 2018 before winning it all in C-2 two years later. Last week’s 35-28 triumph against Oakland-Craig sets up a Friday showdown with top-ranked and 11-0 Norfolk Catholic.
It won’t be easy, but nothing has been for Ord.
The Chanticleers have met adversity head on throughout the season, on and off the field. The team’s top three offensive playmakers were lost to season-ending injuries, three other players were involved in a scary car accident, and another player recently lost his mother to cancer.
It would have been easy to quit, senior Ryan Gabriel says. But the Chanticleers were not going to let that happen.
“I feel like that happening and that whole situation we were in … I always think of – and I know the whole team thinks of is – the suffering that we’ve been through … it’s just motivation,” the team’s emotional leader said. “It’s a lot of motivation to be playing for those guys. You just know that it can be over in a split second.”
Motivation, belief and culture. The Chanticleers believed these are traits that have helped them overcome adversity to win 10 of their 11 games, including two playoff victories.
A 4th down stop for @OrdFootball and they hang on 35-28 over @OC_Knights.
What a football game‼️‼️#nebpreps pic.twitter.com/PBH9a8NHYY
— Tony Chapman (@tony_chapman76) November 5, 2022
Snake-bit by injuries
The front end of Ord’s schedule featured strong opponents – a season-opener against Central City, a measuring-stick game against Norfolk Catholic and a matchup against a tough Battle Creek squad.
Turns out, Ord’s biggest foe was the injury bug.
Starting running back Aidan Ryschon tore his ACL in the fourth quarter against Central City. Two games later, Dylan Hurlburt, an all-state-caliber quarterback, suffered a season-ending shoulder injury.
Ord head coach Nate Wells said he thought his team, which played the five previous seasons without a starter getting injured, was snake-bit.
The injuries, unfortunately, continued. A pair of linemen missed a combined six games, and then Ord’s leading wide receiver, Talan Bruha, tore his ACL on a blocked punt in the regular-season finale.
The team’s best skill players were now watching practices and games from the sideline. And yet, the Chanticleers pressed forward and kept winning.
“The best way I can explain it, I think, is we’ve got really, really good senior leadership. That’s one part of it,” Wells said. “The other part, I think, our kids run our offense from the time they were in the fifth and sixth grade until now. I think our guys learn so much through osmosis just watching everybody else, and we teach concepts so everybody knows what everybody is doing on every play.”
Next man up
Multiple players have stepped up, including juniors Blake Hinrichs and Trent McCain. Hinrichs took over at quarterback and has thrown for 640 yards and rushed for another 870. McCain has played nothing like a second-string tailback, rushing for more than 1,900 yards and 24 touchdowns.
After losing to Norfolk Catholic (35-14), the Chanticleers bounced back to win the final seven games of the regular season, including an impressive 42-7 win against a talented Broken Bow squad.
The win column was growing, and so was the team’s confidence. The winning formula is a bit more.
“Confidence helps a lot, but we’re a proud program, we’ve got good culture at our school,” Gabriel said. “We preach doing the right things all the time and working hard all the time. It’s something that we live by every day. No negative thoughts. Just keep doing your job and keep working hard.”
The “no negative thoughts” mantra has been tested. Three players were involved in a one-car accident just before the playoffs, and one of the three was life-flighted to Omaha where he continues to recover. He joins his teammates almost daily on FaceTime for team meetings.
“We’re trying to include him as much as we can,” Wells said.
On the same day the Chanticleers played Oakland-Craig, many players attended the funeral of a teammate’s mother after her battle with cancer.
“Every one of our teams is close but we’re brothers,” Gabriel said. “We truly are. We’re family and we’d do anything for each other.”
Playing new roles
Football has served as a positive release for the players, coaches and community. That includes the three injured stars — Ryschon, Hurlburt and Bruha (all juniors) – who remain a big part of the team.
“Those guys have had great attitudes,” Wells said. “They come to practice every day, they stand there and help guys.
“I know in the back of their minds they’d give anything to be out there with their teammates, but they’ve been nothing but positive leaders, and I’m really proud of them for that.”
Finding new ways to win
The Chanticleers’ senior class is not very big – there is only six of them – but it has played a critical part in keeping the team together, Wells notes.
That includes Gabriel, who at 6-foot-2 and 230 pounds, is a difference-maker (He leads the team in tackles with 113). After the rash of injuries, Gabriel, who started the season at H-back, moved to guard to strengthen the line. Other players shifted around to plug holes.
Those moves kept the team on track. Now the Chanticleers are four quarters away from Memorial Stadium. Can they upend Norfolk Catholic? That’s a question for Friday night.
What isn’t questioned: Ord’s toughness, resiliency and want-to.
“It’s kind of an unbelievable story that they’ve made it this far that way,” Wells said. “Nobody put their head down either. None of the guys were like, ‘Oh, we can’t do this now.’ We just kept reiterating into them that we’re going to be fine, we got guys that can play and this is their time to shine.”