HASTINGS, Neb. -- McCook brought home a "special" high school football victory from Hastings Oct. 5.
Four blocked kicks and Zayne Gillen's kickoff return for a touchdown were keys to McCook's 41-12 win over the Tigers in a Class B-7 District contest played at Lloyd Wilson Field on the Hastings College campus.
Head coach Jeff Gross knows it takes more than just offense or defense to have a successful prep gridiron program. Gross and his staff work hard on perfecting the Bison special teams play. That hard work paid dividends Friday, as McCook blocked three Hastings punts and a first-quarter Hastings field goal attempt after the Tigers had driven deep in McCook territory.
"It was a pretty good special teams occasion, obviously," Gross said. "We believe that special teams win games, and we'll never stop working hard on special teams. That's just a part of our belief around here -- defense and special teams will win you games, and you can manage the schedule offensively. Friday night was kind of a microcosm of that.
"We played very good defense. Did we give up some yards? Yes. Did we give up a couple points? Yes. But ultimately we were going to win or lose based on our ability, as we talked in the pre-game during the week, about being able to stop (Hastings quarterback) Tyler Ripperger. We did that with flying colors. We gave up some other yards. In our scheme, we allowed (Hastings) to find those other yards, and they did. We still came out of it exactly like we wanted to."
Gross said his offense also played well, but probably not as "crisp" as the Bison were in a 45-14 win at Alliance one week earlier.
"Our special teams allowed us not to have to be," he said. "We put the ball game on the defense and special teams, and they took over, and our offense did enough to win."
McCOOK DREW first blood in the opening quarter on a play that could be worthy of ESPN highlights.
Wide receiver Cody Wudtke caught a 19-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Austin Cherry. On the play, Wudtke ran a fade pattern to the end zone and went up and took the ball out of the air with one hand behind the Hastings defender.
Dakota Baumgartner converted the first of three conversion kicks to put McCook ahead 7-0.
"Cody Wudtke probably made one of the most spectacular catches a high school kid ever made," Coach Gross said of Wudtke's acrobatic catch. "He one-handed it behind a kid's back and pulled it in."
McCook blocked a Hastings punt early in the second quarter, and Jake Schlager later scored on a 5-yard touchdown run to help put the Bison ahead 14-0. McCook scored again when Cherry hit Matt Collicott for a 11-yard TD pass.
Hastings came back with a drive capped by Tanner Johnson's 24-yard run. On the ensuing kickoff, Zayne Gillen caught the ball at the Bison 10 and raced 90 yards for a touchdown to put the Bison in control at 27-6 at the halftime break.
McCook's special teams scored again in the third quarter when Vince Lyons recovered a blocked punt in the end zone for a touchdown. Hastings came back with a big play from Tyce Matthias, who ran 93 yards for a TD.
Cherry answered in the final period when the Bison senior broke free for a 55-yard touchdown run.
CHERRY PACED McCook with 101 yards on just 9 rushing attempts. Schlager added 81 yards on 13 carries, and Kyle Stewart had 29 yards on 7 rushes.
McCook ran for 224 yards on 33 attempts, an average of just under 7 yards per carry.
Cherry also completed 5 of 10 passes for 66 yards and two touchdowns. Wudtke caught 2 passes for 31 yards, including the spectacular TD grab. Schlager also had 2 receptions for 24 yards, and Matt Collicott had the 11-yard TD catch.
Schlager led the Bison defense with 39 points, including two blocked kicks, four tackles for loss and six solo tackles. Colton Sis and Trevor Matson also had blocked kicks for the Bison.
HASTINGS had 222 total yards, including 202 rushing and just 20 passing. The Bison game plan was to limit quarterback Tyler Ripperger's yardage on option keepers.
"They were a good football team," Coach Gross said of the Tigers. "Hastings had some skills, and they have some kids over there that can play. They did some things to us.
"We weren't going to let Tyler Ripperger beat us. So we were going to give them some yards on the dive, and they took advantage of that. They made some yards and controlled the clock at times. But that was by our choice. The end result was we knew that wasn't going to beat us. The only way they would beat us was if the quarterback was running around at will. We stopped that. It was a good victory."
THE BISON are riding a five-game win streak after starting the season with consecutive losses to Aurora and Scottsbluff. McCook faces another key District B-7 battle Friday, Oct. 12, when Holdrege comes to Weiland Field for a 7 p.m. kickoff. Holdrege opened district play last Friday with a 17-14 win over Lexington.
McCook can clinch the district title and a guaranteed berth in the Class B state playoffs with a win over the Dusters and a Lexington loss to Hastings.