Bison senior Jake Schlager returned the opening kickoff 92 yards for a touchdown, and McCook got another strong defensive effort in a 27-0 victory over Lex.
The second consecutive shutout win sends the Bison into the Class B state playoffs for the 13th straight year. McCook, 7-2, will host 7-2 Norris Friday, Oct. 26, at Weiland Field in first-round playoff action. Kickoff has been moved up to 6 p.m. CDT.
Schlager fielded the opening kick and headed toward the McCook sideline. The speedy back got around the initial Lexington wall, then made a sharp cut inside to beat the final Lex defender before turning on the afterburners and racing untouched to the end zone.
Jacob Riemann's conversion kick put McCook ahead 7-0 with just 14 seconds elapsed on the clock.
Perhaps the Bison players took Schlager's kickoff return as a sign of an easy night ahead. But Lexington wasn't buying in.
Bison senior wide receiver Cody Wudtke said after Friday's win that he thought his team "Took a sigh, took a step back," after Schlager's big return. He also said the early score didn't break Lexington's will.
"They came out firing. This was their last game -- you could see it on their faces that they wanted this game bad," Wudtke said. "We didn't overlook them, we just kind of relaxed when we returned the kickoff. It's a learning experience. That's good for us, we'll take it into the playoffs."
WUDTKE SCORED a touchdown late in the first half to give the Bison some breathing room, and the senior set up the score with a big defensive play.
Lexington still trailed by just 7-0 as the clock wound down under two minutes to go in the first half. The Minutemen lined up to punt on fourth down, but instead tried to execute a pass play. But Wudtke stepped in front of the pass and returned the interception to the Lex 20-yard line.
Zayne Gillen caught a 13-yard pass from quarterback Austin Cherry, as Gillen got one foot inbounds for a good catch on the first play following the interception. Three plays and a McCook penalty later, Cherry lofted a pass to the right corner of the end zone and Wudtke ran under the ball for the touchdown.
McCook missed the extra point kick, and the Bison took a more comfortable 13-0 lead into the locker room.
The Bison left some points on the field. After holding Lex on downs following Schlager's kickoff return, McCook took possession on its 18-yard line. The Bison used 15 plays to push the ball to the Lex 11, and on fourth down McCook missed the field goal attempt.
The Bison misfired on another field goal try in the second quarter. McCook also drove deep in Lexington territory in the third quarter, but a third-down fumble was recovered by the hosts at the Lex 9.
"Probably the most frustrating part is we didn't cash in on some scoring opportunities," Bison head coach Jeff Gross said. "It was almost like things became so easy so fast (Schlager's kickoff), that maybe we started relaxing a little bit, and (Lex) started playing a little harder.
"They were a physical team. They played hard. Give Lexington credit for staying in that ball game and keeping it close and fighting. Their kids fought all the way to the end."
Bison senior linebacker Javier Beltran echoed his coach's sentiments about the Minutemen.
"It's just a repeat of last year (a double-overtime McCook win) -- we got their very best, the absolute very best that they could give last year," Beltran said. "I expected the same this year. It was the last game for their seniors. I knew they were going to hard. We were prepared, I think."
McCOOK'S SPECIAL TEAMS struck again early in the third quarter. Lex started the second half with two penalties, including a personal foul on a helmet-to-helmet hit on Bison kicker Bryce Lyons. The miscues pushed the Minutemen back to their 5-yard line.
On fourth down from the Lex 16, punter Edgar Ramirez jumped high to field the center snap. Ramirez scrambled then tried to get off the punt from the shadow of his goal line. He appeared to be hit by the Bison blitz as he tried to boot the football. The ball slipped to the turf, and sophomore Peyton Stagemeyer picked it up and ran 3 yards for the first touchdown of his varsity career. Dakota Baumgartner kicked the extra point to put McCook ahead 20-0 less than two minutes into the second half.
Coach Gross had to alter his game plan after Schlager went out in the first half with a leg injury. The senior standout did not return, as he spent the second half with ice on his leg. He is expected to play Friday against Norris.
The Bison head coach also said Lex switched their defense, causing a bit of confusion for the McCook front line in blocking early in the game. But the Bison still ran for 229 yards and added 68 more through the air for 297 total yards.
Lexington gained 230 total yards, including 180 on the ground and 50 passing.
Sophomore Trevor Matson ended McCook's scoring with a 20-yard touchdown run late in the fourth period.
Kyle Stewart bulled his way to 78 rushing yards on 12 carries to lead the Bison. Schlager had 42 yards on 6 carries before he left the game. Cherry also ran for 64 yards on 11 attempts.