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W-P rags-to-riches final chapter a big hit

Monday, November 12, 2012

Steve Kodad/McCook Daily Gazette Weylin Davis (31) of Wauneta-Palisade stretches to haul in this pass from quarterback Jacob Maris to complete a 20-yard W-P touchdown play in the first quarter at Kearney Nov. 9. Wauneta-Palisade finished the season with a perfect 11-0 record and won the Six-Man state championship with a 26-16 win over Sioux County.
KEARNEY, Neb. -- Any fan of Nebraska Six-Man high school football probably doesn't get too excited about defense. Face it, looking at most scores, the Six-Man emphasis would appear to be offense and high scoring.

But the old adage that defense wins championships may be the motto of the 2012 Wauneta-Palisade squad after the Broncos claimed the Six-Man state championship Friday, Nov. 9. W-P shut out Sioux County in the second half to key a 26-16 victory in the Six-Man playoff finals at Ron & Carol Cope Stadium at Foster Field on the University of Nebraska-Kearney campus.

The Broncos stopped Sioux County four times deep in W-P territory, including three times in the second half.

Steve Kodad/McCook Daily Gazette Wauneta-Palisade defenders Jacob Maris (18, left), Weylin Davis (31, right) and Jack McGraw (29, bottom) swarm Sioux County running back Jonny Dunn (20) during Six-Man state prep football championship finals Nov. 9 at Kearney. The Broncos capitalized on a strong defensive effort to win the state title with a 26-16 decision.
"Offense in six man, it's going to be big plays, and people think it's a lot of scoring," said W-P co-head coach Joseph Frecks, "but defense is going to win you championships, and that's what we've said all along. The kids have bought into every second of it. That's why we were able to win this game. Yes, we shot ourselves in the foot, had some turnovers, we had some untimely penalties. But we played great defense, we tackled. I'm proud of the boys."

In the eight regular-season wins and two playoff victories before Friday's state finals, Wauneta-Palisade's average final score per game was 47-17. The Broncos were held under 40 points just three times before Friday's game, including a 39-28 come-from-behind win over Sioux County Sept. 21 at Wauneta.

THE PERFECT 11-0 SEASON and state title ended a sparkling rags-to-riches story for the Wauneta-Palisade football program.

Steve Kodad/McCook Daily Gazette Hayden Pollmann (86) of W-P looks the football into his hands in front of Sioux County defensive back Ron Fink (left) to complete a 20-yard pass reception in the second quarter at UNK Nov. 9. The Broncos scored on the next play to take a 20-8 lead and eventually won the Six-Man state championship with a 26-16 decision.
The Broncos dropped to six-man this fall after suffering through tough times in the past two seasons competing at the eight-man level. W-P entered this season with a 14-game losing skid that dated back to early in the 2010 campaign.

The losing streak ended Aug. 24 at Wauneta when the Broncos started their six-man era with a 43-8 win over Cody-Kilgore. They haven't lost since.

"Coming off an 0-8 season, that's pretty demoralizing. We just said, that's not going to happen again," said senior running back Connor Kayton, who scored a key second-half touchdown. "We got in the weight room last summer, we worked real hard all summer long. All of us, the underclassmen, we all worked hard, we got together, got conditioned, went to camps, got it all put together.

Steve Kodad/McCook Daily Gazette Wauneta-Palisade High School seniors (from left) Connor Kayton, Jack McGraw and Logan Bischoff celebrate after the Broncos claimed the Six-Man football state championship with a 26-16 win over Sioux County Nov. 9 at Ron & Carol Stadium at Foster Field on the University of Nebraska-Kearney campus.
"Two new coaches in here -- unreal, great coaches. I'm the luckiest kid in the state to have them as coaches."

"We started off the first game, we said, 'This is not going to be like last year.' We got our first win, pretty big, and we just kept rolling from there, kept winning and winning. But we were 0-8 last year, so we couldn't take anything for granted. We kept working hard."

KAYTON, the team's leading rusher this season, said the Cinderella story idea of a state championship was a distant thought for the Broncos.

"Coming from an 0-8 season, we wrote goals down at the beginning of the season," he said. "Most of the goals were, win four or five games, maybe make a playoff game. In the back of our minds, we always had the state championship game -- everyone does. Down the stretch, we smelled blood and we were going to get it. We were going to get it, yes."

Co-head coach Randy Geier said the perfect season and state title is a tribute to a great bunch of kids.

"It all started in the weight room last summer," Geier said. "They haven't had a bad practice all year. They practiced hard. It's not an accident that these guys ended up being a good football team, because they've worked very, very hard in practice and they've sold out in games. They bought into a team attitude. They didn't care who got the credit, they just played hard and they wanted to win."

EARLY IN FRIDAY'S contest, it looked like another typical six-man display of offensive fireworks.

W-P scored a pair of touchdowns through the air. Kayton threw a halfback pass to Hayden Pollman, who got behind the Sioux County defense to finish the 47-yard scoring play. Two plays later, the Warriors answered when Garret Gray broke free for a 74-yard TD run.

Kayton returned the ensuing kickoff deep in Sioux County territory. Three plays later W-P quarterback Jacob Maris lofted a perfect pass to Weylin Davis, who stretched out to make the catch for a 20-yard touchdown. The Broncos led 14-8 with 3:40 remaining in the opening period.

Early in the second quarter, Gray tried to throw a pass as he was hounded by W-P linebacker Jack McGraw. Gray completed the pass right to W-P's Davis, who ran untouched for another score. But the return was nullified by a penalty. A 20-yard pass to Pollmann set up Kayton's 10-yard TD run to put the Broncs ahead 20-8 with 9:13 left in the first half.

W-P gave the Warriors new life after a punt on a roughing penalty. On the next play, Sioux County's Jonny Dunn ran 37 yards for a touchdown to help cut the lead to 20-16.

The Warriors got the ball back and drove into W-P territory in the closing seconds of the first half. But Wes Anderjaska stepped in front of a pass for the interception at the Broncos 1-yard line just seconds before halftime to help preserve W-P's four-point lead.

KAYTON DID something he rarely did all season -- cough up the football -- deep in W-P territory late in the third period. Sioux County pushed the ball to the Broncs 7-yard line on fourth down, then Bischoff stepped in front of a pass for the interception at the W-P 1.

Nine plays and one holding penalty later, Kayton took a pitch and ran around right end. He cut back across the grain and sprinted to the end zone for a 35-yard touchdown with just over nine minutes left in the contest, giving the Broncos a 10-point cushion.

The Broncs stopped the Warriors again, as receiver Josh Kling slipped as he caught a pass and was hit just inches from the W-P goal line. The Broncos moved the ball near midfield, but Kayton fumbled again as he fought for extra yardage, and Sioux County recovered. But the Broncs' defense stiffened and held on downs, as Kayton and McGraw stopped receiver Nathan Woodrum short on a fourth-down pass with just over two minutes left.

Kayton lost the ball again and Sioux County recovered with under a minute remaining. But three incomplete passes and a quarterback sack by McGraw and Davis ended the threat and allowed W-P to run out the clock and start their victory celebration.

COACH FRECKS talked about his team turning the long two-year losing streak into a perfect season capped by the state championship.

"It just goes to show what great character our kids have," Frecks said. "It comes from the community. We've got a great community, great support. These kids, they never doubted themselves. They wanted to be winners. They had the desire to win -- that's the way they showed up in the weight room this summer, they showed up to every single practice with the desire to win. That's what they did, we played to win tonight.

"We talked at halftime, we had a couple mistakes, but they were hustle, effort mistakes, and we were playing to win."

A RAGS-TO-RICHES saga for the ages, from 0-14 to 11-0, forever etched in Nebraska state high school six-man football history -- Wauneta-Palisade, 2012 state champions.

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