The outcome of Friday's game at Weiland Field was basically decided by a few plays, this time mostly in a six-minute stretch to start the game when the Bearcats scored twice to build a 14-0 lead. The Scottsbluff setback was close to a carbon copy of McCook's season-opening 26-13 setback at Aurora a week earlier, when three long scoring plays by Aurora in a short period in the second quarter basically determined the outcome.
"I've said all along, what's the strength of our football team? Our defense. That is the heart and soul and strength of our team," said McCook head coach Jeff Gross. "Our offense put us in some bad position, field position, and we gave up 14 quick first-quarter points. Our offense could never get us back in the game. That's the bottom line. That's how the game went."
McCook gained just one yard on its next possession, surrendering the ball back to the Bearcats on another three-down quick series. Scottsbluff took control at the Bison 44, and four plays and a McCook late hit penalty later, the visitors scored on a 2-yard run by Worden to take a 14-0 lead with less than six minutes gone in the opening quarter.
The Bison didn't get a first down until Kyle Stewart ran four yards on a second down and 3 from the Bison 12 early in the second period. McCook finally crossed midfield, but quarterback Austin Cherry was sacked on third down at the Scottsbluff 40, and the Bison were forced to punt again.
Scottsbluff drove deep in McCook territory, but a long field goal attempt was blocked by senior linebacker Jake Schlager. But McCook gave the ball back on a fumble a few plays later, then both team exchanged punts to set up a Scottsbluff scoring drive late in the first half.
The Bearcats used the sideline to stop the clock on several plays and move into field goal range, where Randy Wentz booted a 46-yard kick on the final play of the first half to give the visitors a 17-0 lead.
McCook played much better in the second half. But the Bison couldn't find the end zone until the closing minutes when Cherry rolled right and found Cody Wudtke in the back of the end zone for an 11-yard touchdown pass with 1:08 remaining. Dakota Baumgartner booted the extra point to cut the Bison deficit to 17-7.
Scottsbluff recovered the onside kick attempt and ran out the clock for the victory.
Gross was encouraged by his team's effort after halftime.
"The second half we played lights out," he said. "We played great on defense. We did some decent things on offense; we moved the ball.
"I told the kids at the end of the game, 'if you play football the way you played the entire second half, with an edge, a passion and determination, we stand a chance to go 7-and-2.' A chance -- that's not a for-sure thing. Two weeks in a row, we've just gotten behind. We're just not good enough at what we do, and people right now are just coming after us like wolves when we're on offense. Until we get better on third downs, until we get some field position for our offense, this is what we're going to be faced with."
McCOOK MANAGED just 92 rushing yards on 30 attempts. Stewart had 39 yards on 10 carries, while Schlager rushed for 36 yards on 10 attempts.
Cherry completed 8 of 18 passes for 112 yards and one interception. Wudtke caught four passes for 38 yards. Schlager had two catches for 52 yards, including a 46-yard reception that got the Bison out of the shadow of their own goal line early in the third quarter.
Javier Beltran also caught two passes for 20 yards.
Scottsbluff had 151 rushing yards and 89 more through the air, as both teams ended the game with 204 yards of total offense.
PROBABLY VERY FEW current Bison fans can remember their team starting the football season with two consecutive losses. But Coach Gross and his staff knew the inexperienced offensive line would likely have some growing pains to start the year, and Gross knows his team has lost to two of the state's top Class B teams.
"I know there are a lot of people saying, 'Geez, McCook's 0-and-2." But we played the second-ranked team in the state last week (Aurora) that's now ranked one, and we played the second-ranked team this week," Gross said. "Both teams, for better parts of those games, we battled and we won phases of the game. We just didn't win 48 minutes.
"Right now that has to be our goal is to go out and win 48 minutes. The task ain't going to get any easier -- Northwest is a good football team. They blasted Hastings (last Friday).
"I don't want to keep singing this song and dance, but we've just got to keep plugging away and keep getting better."
THE OPENING play from scrimmage probably summed up McCook's night.
Cherry found Wudtke wide open in front of the McCook bench, but the senior wide receiver couldn't find the handle on what would have been a long pass completion.
Coach Gross said it was as if his team went into a "funk" after the incomplete pass. Gross said he called a timeout after McCook misfired with a procedure penalty to start their third possession at the Bison 20-yard line. The Bison coach said he questioned his team about what was going on.
"We had to stop the snowball from becoming an avalanche," he said.
McCook played much better defensively after that point, but the offense still couldn't get untracked until the second half.
THE BISON celebrate Homecoming Friday, Sept. 7, when Grand Island Northwest comes to town. Scottsbluff improved to 2-0.