Northwest football team leaves me in a daze.
After watching high school football for nearly 50 years, nothing much leaves this guy speechless. The only thought that usually crosses my mind before, during, and after a night on the sidelines you've all heard me utter before..... "Is this Heaven?" But the Vikings performance Friday on Aurora's new Sprint Turf left me without words. There are no outward emotions for me on any sidelines, but what goes on inside lingers for days. I've seen some wildly unpredictable outcomes in my life, but the 54-0 win Northwest laid on Aurora was mind boggling to say the least. The words at the end of my stat sheet say it all...."My God!!!"
If there is something I've learned after watching nearly 30 games a season and endless hours of film, is do not jump to hasty conclusions. A year ago more than one sports scribe was ready to anoint Omaha Burke the Class A title winner after watching them play a single game. "Nobody beats Burke" echoed throughout the papers and chat lines. Now I rarely profess to be smart, know a little bit about high school football....maybe, but after watching Lincoln SE, then Omaha Burke, then Southeast again, I thought the Knights would probably win the game if the two met in the playoffs. (see 2011 Class A Championship result).
I seriously doubt if anybody is ready to declare Northwest Class B state champions at this point, but let's face it, nobody beats Aurora 54-0. When's the last time you saw an Aurora team take it on the chops like that? Been 12 years for me. Not since Eric Moody and the Auburn boys came in on opening night/2000 and raced to a 40 something to nothing halftime lead have I witnessed an Aurora beating that rivaled last Friday. Aurora has a program that is one of the most respected, copied, and revered in Nebraska high school football. The Huskies just do not suffer beatings like that, and it'll be a ton of Friday nights before you hear Randy Huebert deliver the kind of speech he had to deliver on the radio following the Northwest game. No sir. Proud and successful program.
Here is what I do know about this year's Viking football squad. They seem believe in themselves. They really, seriously believe they can win every football game they play. Believe me, I've heard it a couple of dozen times in the past from 2710 North Road how "this year's team is ready to break out". It hasn't exactly been the "Curse of the Bambino" as far as Northwest football has been concerned, but the school has not had a playoff win since 1987. Matter of fact, they have never had a season better than 2-7 when known as "Northwest." The school was known as Grand Island Northwest since it opened it's doors in the late 60's. "Grand Island" was dropped from the school's name before the 2006/2007 school year and since then the Vikings have gone 11-43 on the gridiron.
There have been splendid athletes on Northwest football teams through those years, but they never seemed to grasp that winning formula. Remarks like "everybody wants to schedule that bunch for their homecoming game", and "at least the band is good at the football games" were whispered everywhere I caught a football game around the state. Heartbreaking to hear, especially because the school is so successful in so many other sports and extra curricular activities. But this class of seniors, who have been ballyhooed as the "saviors of the football program" since their 8th grade season may just have served notice they are serious about this game.
A record breaking senior quarterback that never started a varsity game in his life, a relentless, pressuring defense that is always around the ball and a high energy, electric head football coach have this team and school believing in themselves and that seemed like a far fetched dream just a couple of years back. The broken record of past failures and heartbreaks took a giant step toward big time respectability in Aurora and any Class B football team that doesn't take these guys seriously are in for a big surprise. Up until last Friday, it looked like maybe a Tim Johnk of Omaha Gross, Tim Turman of Omaha Skutt, or Bob Sexton of Beatrice may be able to figure out a game plan to halt that efficient passing game, but things keep changing, improving. The defensive schemes are becoming wickedly efficeint, just ask Joe Benson and the excellent coaching staff at Scottsbluff. Lord knows you don't need to inquire in Aurora.
So what was it like to be on the sidelines in Aurora? It was like something like I haven't seen since the Dick Anderson days in 1981 and 1985. Those teams could have beaten many Class A teams those years. In fact, the game Friday was like a flashback to the Grand Island Northwest/Aurora Class B state championship game at Senior High in '81. Recall the score....55-0. Eerie. And Aurora limped into that game with a rash of injuries. The Huskies were mostly healthy last Friday. Eerie.
Once again, let's not jump to conclusions, but if it keeps up this football team is going to do some serious damage in Class B.
It gets more complicated for their opponents too. Northwest unleashed their running game in the second half Friday, when they did the most serious damage. Granted the defense delivered the crushing blows, but Zach Rouzee only attemped three passes.....THREE in that 2nd half, completing none. Kyle Bockmann ran like a man possessed. Churning, punishing, twisting and turning for yards after contact, on his way to 130 yards on 25 carries. Rouzee even scored twice on runs, bowling over Huskies on short scoring blasts right through the heart of the "D". The short slant passes turned into long gains by the lightening fast, shifty Alex Larsen, added to the fun. And consider this. The Vikings :11.0 sprinter Alec Waters, who entered the game with 27 catches for 439 yards (4th best in Class B), never caught a pass that night.
Speaking about that defense, what a game Northwest's other RB/DB, Cole Leamon played. All over the field. Breaking up passes, spilling runners in the open backfield and preserving the shutout by knocking Aurora QB Luke Standage out of bounds at the NW 2 on the game's final play. And I saw a vastly improved Conner Eberhardt at linebacker make life miserable for anybody that was near the ball. At 6-2, 210 pounds, this kid has all-state and college football written all over him. He has tackling tackling talents close to Austin Pomajzl, former NW footballer who plays for Wayne State college and is currently the 4th leading tackler in his division nationally. With a little luck Eberhardt may get a smaller D-1 program look (South Dakota, South Dakota State...).
This 2012 bunch know how to tackle and this Northwest defensive staff has come up with 2 consecutive game plans that have produced terrific results. And boy did I love seeing Coach Kevin Stein's dad on the sidelines ( and later in the booth). Dick Stein, who retired from coaching in 2000 from Chadron high school, complied a record of 226-111-2 in his life coaching football. He is 21st on the all-time list of high school coaches in this state. Pretty impressive resume. Ya think Kevin learned a thing or two alone the way? Even Kevin's mother is near the sidelines on the track to help lead the cheers.
As I stated earlier, it may be to early to predict anything too lofty. But what I saw and felt on the sidelines and the field last Friday had the feeling of a team that has been on top for years. Now, all the coaches, players have to do is keep the magic rolling. Has the spell been broken? Have the cruel knocks been buried? The fun is just beginning for Northwest football. The new identity has been established and it seems for real. We'll find out.
And maybe, just maybe, these 2012 Vikings will feel the same thing that I, along with the teams from 1981 and 1985 felt on those sidelines.........eerie.