Running back Caleb Busch is one of the main reasons Burwell is back in the Class D-1 Championship game in 2020. The junior star has rushed for a monster 2,189 yards and 45 touchdowns this season. *(photo courtesy of Jennifer Svoboda)
A tradition-rich Burwell team survived an early 22-0 deficit knockout punch by Cross County, picked itself off the ground for a second straight week, then went on to post a powerful 37-36 win over an unbeaten Cross County team.
The Longhorns, unbeaten and 11-0 themselves, had to rally from deficits of 22-0 and 30-14 to pull off a 5th trip in the last 6 years to the State Class D-1 finals. It was just a week ago that Burwell had to make up a two touchdown deficit to defeat a Neligh-Oakdale team (49 to 48) they had thrashed 53-28 a month ago.
On this chilly, wind-swept evening South of beautiful Stromsburg, the Longhorns were faced with stopping a brutal Cross County ground attack, who was not only the #1 rushing team in all of Nebraska regardless of class, but also a National 8-Man football leader in rushing yards per game (449.0). But the Longhorns battled back to trail only 30-22 at the half, then relied on their stingy defense to take what was given to them and creep away in the second half.
It was an 8-Man Game for the Ages that had the fire power to be a Championship matchup had there not been another pair of D-1 powerhouse teams (Tri-County/Dundy County/Stratton) battling it out 86 miles down the road in DeWitt.
Talk about getting punched in the mouth early, 11-0 Burwell had the ball in its hands right off the bat in this Battle of the Eight-Man football Powers. Facing a still breeze, the Cross County defense not only held the Longhorns to a three and out, but were the recipients of great field position when a punt went off the side of Barak Birch’s foot, ending up at the Burwell 33 yard line.
Here comes that Nation-leading Cross County rushing attack. It took one handoff right up the gut of the Burwell defense for 2000 yard rusher Isaac Noyd to break loose for a 33 yard scoring run.
The very next Burwell series, the Longhorns get one first down, are forced to punt again, and two plays later, 1,937 yard rusher Carter Seim is off to the races on a 45 yard touchdown gallop.
Six minutes, 13 seconds left in the opening quarter and Burwell is down 14-0 in the quick blink of a Cougar eye.
After Cory Hollinger boots the ensuing kickoff into the Burwell endzone for a touchback, disaster strikes again on first down when when the Longhorn’s own 2000 yard rusher, Caleb Busch has the ball ripped out of his hands after a bruising run.
Cross County’s Isaac Noyd recovers and the Burwell 7 and three plays later Cougar FB/leading tackler Christian Rystrom is seen crashing across the Longhorns goal line for a 3 yard touchdown run. Carter Seim powers his way into the endzone for the double conversion and Cross County is up 22-0 with 4:44 left in the opening quarter.
Was this going to be THAT easy for Hayden DeLano’s big play Cross County offense? Here is your answer to that one.
If I were a betting man, I would wager there wasn’t ONE knowledgeable coach, fan or player at this football game that had that thought cross their mind. Not one. Not gonna happen on Burwell’s watch. Too many state championship games. Too many excellent coaches like Luke Gideon, or Big Mike Max, who grew up playing for this program. Too many players that fought like the dickens just for the right to be a water boy or ball boy for this football team when they were young lads.
Young boys like maybe Cash Gurney back in the day, who after a Burwell home game, made the 30 mile trek due north to his ranch, then laid in bed with dreams of being an Alec Galvin or Jake Holmquist or Will McClintic.
That’s what Burwell football is all about. Tradition, deeply rooted tradition.
With those thoughts in mind, Burwell showed why they have been in five of those past six D-1 championship games on the ensuing kickoff following Cross County’s 3rd touchdown of the opening quarter.
It took just one play for QB Barak Birch to hit speedy Cash Gurney, who had snuck out of the backfield, for a 65 yard touchdown scoring strike. Now it’s 22-7 as we enter the 2nd stanza.
Before Cross County could rebound and fully cover those Burwell potential pass receivers, the Longhorns put another tally on the board via a Barak Birch to big Alex Gideon touchdown strike. The play covered 6 yards, sure-footed Casimir Koskela added the PAT kick and suddenly Burwell trails only 22-14.
Cross County would answer that score, although it didn’t look like it after a fabulous Christian Rystrom 35 yard kick return was taken back 17 yards following a block in the back call on the Cougars.
But Isaac Noyd and Carter Seim, just as they had done all season, ripped off big gains all the way to the Burwell 23 yard line before the swift, power running Carter Seim bolted off tackle for that final 23 yards and a touchdown run that elevated the junior sensation over the 2000 yard rushing mark for season
The resulting 30-14 Cross County lead was looking mighty good with 5:37 left before halftime, and an Isaac Noyd interception at the Cross County 12 yard line with 3:39 left in the 2nd made things look even better.
But Burwell held the Cougars to a three and out following the Noyd pick and moved the ball 47 yards in 8 plays, cutting the score to 30-22 on a Caleb Busch 2 yard touchdown run with just :43.3 left in the half.
The complexion of this Classic battle made a hard turn after halftime. Cross County star Christian Rystrom had the ball poked out of his hands following another terrific kick return and an always opportunistic Burwell team recovered the loose ball at the Cougar 30 yard line.
But an equally opportunistic Cross County forced a Burwell fumble on the very next play. Big lineman Colby Bolton fell on the loose pigskin, and the Cougars had the ball back just like that, four yards upfield at the Cougar 34.
But...it was on THIS Cross County possession I felt the momentum turn. Isaac Noyd lost 2 yards on first down, a bad center/QB snap exchange caused another 2 yard loss, then Noyd was stopped cold for no gainer on a 3rd and 14 back on the Cougar 30.
Cross County’s Shayden Lundstrom did get off a dandy punt that carried all the way to the Burwell 17, but quarterback Barak Birch, who passed for over 1000 yards this season, immediately went to work.
The veteran senior caller, who has started the past 24 games for the Longhorns, nailed wide receiver Mason Plock for a 25 yard gain, then found Cash Gurney for a 3 yard pickup. Burwell then went back to work with it’s ground attack and finished out the 10 play, 63 yard drive with a Cash Gurney 5 yard touchdown run.
Now with 6:22 left in the 3rd quarter, we had a new ballgame with the two powerhouses deadlocked at 30 apiece.
Cross County nearly answered the Burwell touchdown on their ensuing possession. Facing a 4th down and 6 at midfield, Isaac Noyd took the direct snap and rolled to his right on what appeared to be a normal sweep play. Isaac then suddenly pulled and lofted a beauty of a pass to big junior TE Cory Hollinger, who rambled 31 yards to the Burwell 9.
Christian Rystrom banged ahead to the 5, then 220 pound FB/DE Tyler Dawe made one of the biggest defensive plays of the game, blowing in to spill Isaac Noyd for a 5 yard loss back to the 10 yard line.
Running back Haiden Hild then came in to play quarterback and attempted to hit Hollinger, then Carter Seim in the right corner of the end zone, but both passes sailed harmlessly over the heads of both intended receivers and the drive was over.
Not only did the Burwell defense avert the Cross County score, but the Longhorns then put together a killer drive to forge ahead for the first time in the Classic battle, 37-30.
Beginning at their own 10 yard line with 2:14 left in the 3rd quarter, the Longhorns turned to their 2000 yard rusher Caleb Busch and their brutal, grind it out ground attack. It was a vintage Luke Gideon/Burwell drive, consuming four minutes, seventeen seconds off the clock. Busch, the 190 pound junior battering ram runner, gobbled up 31 yards of the 70 yard drive, following that big Longhorn O-Line.
But the big play in the drive was a stunning 26 yard run by Busch’s junior classmate, Cash Gurney. The 180 pound Gurney, who has blinding speed, sprinted from his own 24 to the Cross County 30 yard line. Cash followed that baby with runs of 7 and 9 yards before Caleb Busch crashed in for the go-ahead tally.
Once again though, Hayden DeLano’s Cross County squad was up to the task, delivering an answer to the Burwell touchdown on a short 5 play, 55 yard drive. Two huge plays did the trick for the quick-strike Cougars. Carter Seim exploded for a 26 yard gain from the Cross County 25 to the Burwell 29.
Worth mentioning was right in the middle of this drive, Cash Gurney flew in to crush both Isaac Noyd and Seim for no gainers, but on a 4th and 9 from the Longhorn 28, Isaac Noyd pulled off another great pass out of what appeared to be a running play. This time the southpaw found Christian Rystrom for a 28 yard scoring strike. Rystrom was not about to be stopped after latching on to Isaac’s throw, blazing into the end zone for what appeared to the tying score.
Then came the play that decided the game, although few may have realized it at the time. Cross County, trailing 37-36, was going for two, as they have all year.
This time, the play called for Haiden Hild getting the ball, beginning in motion from his tight flanker slot sweeping right. Now, I’m not certain whether Hild was supposed to carry the play out or hand it off to another runner, but there was a bobble on the ball exchange and Burwell was on it like turkey buzzards on road kill, snuffing out the play before it got going.
So here we are with 8:12 left in the game, Burwell leading 37-36 and the prospect of an overtime game looking like slim and none.
There was still plenty of time for another Cross County touchdown and the Cougars indeed had a shot after Alex Gideon coughed up the football after catching a pass at the Cross County 34 yard line.
DeLano’s troops went to work at their own 28 following the recovered fumble, moving the ball across midfield to the Longhorn 31. The next play though, basically wrapped things up for Burwell as Carter Seim absorbed a wicked tackle(s) and had the ball ripped out of his grasp. Several players kicked the loose pigskin around before senior defensive lineman Hunter Mayfield (#75) pounced on it, securing the thing by tucking it into the midsection of his massive 245 pound frame.
Burwell then played vintage Burwell football, the clock reading 4:01 left in someone’s 2020 season. Alternating handoffs to Caleb Busch and Cash Gurney, the Longhorns drove the football from their 35 to the Cougar 22 yard line.
With :17.7 remaining, Caleb Busch illustrated why he will end up breaking the school rushing record before the Longhorns call it a season. The junior took the handoff, followed his wall of blockers, then kept rolling, dragging tough-as-nails Cross County would-be tacklers all the way to the 9 yard line, where time expired, sending Burwell to the D-1 State Championship game.
Burwell ended the Classic with 242 yards rushing on 49 tries. Caleb Busch led the way with 114 hard-earned yards on 30 carries with a pair of short touchdown runs. Cash Gurney added 88 yards on 14 carries with a 5 yard scoring dash.
Barack Birch completed 12 of 20 passes for 146 yards and two touchdowns with one pick. It was the quick-stepping Cash Gurney heading up the Longhorns receiving corps, hauling in five passes for 85 yards and two scores.
The Burwell defense, pushed to the limit the past two weeks, were led by 15 tackle performance of……..you guessed it, Cash Gurney. Big lineman Hunter Mayfield stuffed up the middle with his 11 stops, while junior Alex Gideon added 10 crunches.
Unofficially, Cross County was led by Carter Seim’s 174 yards on 17 totes and TD runs covering 45 and 23 yards. Seim went over the 2000 yard rushing mark in the contest, unofficially ending the season with 2,111 yards. We will wait for the official final stats from Cross County to make Seims total official.
Isaac Noyd was next with 66 yards on 17 carries and a touchdown, unofficially elevating his season rushing total at 2,131 yards, giving Cross County the first pair of two thousand yard rushers in history, regardless of class.
The Cougars attempted only 5 passes in the game, completing 2 for 59 yards and the 28 yard scoring hookup from Isaac Noyd to Christian Rystrom.
There were no stats found for Cross County tackles, but I can tell you right now, Christian Rystrom was all over the place, not only on defense, but on offense as well. The senior FB/LB, who led the Cougars in tackles this season, played the game of his life in this Burwell semifinal clash, often times playing in pain. The seasoned warrior played his heart out, the took a slow walk to midfield following the exodus of fans and players, sitting all by himself, knowing his career at Cross County was in the books.
I don’t choke up at many things, but that one got me big time.
Burwell will not advance to Memorial Stadium, but instead back home to host the D1 Championship game, facing unbeaten Dundy County/Stratton, a team they pulled away from for a 28-10 win a year ago in the Semis.
Cross County (11-1)...22……8……0…...6……….36
CC-Isaac Noyd 33 run - PAT-run failed (9:58) 6-0
CC-Carter Seim 45 run - PAT-Christian Rystrom run (6:13) 14-0
CC-Christian Rystrom 3 run - PAT-Carter Seim run (4:44) 22-0
BU-Cash Gurney 65 pass from Barak Birch - PAT-Casimir Koskela kick (4:35) 22-7
BU-Alex Gideon 6 pass from Birch - PAT-Koskela kick (9:10) 22-14
CC-Carter Seim 23 run - PAT-Isaac Noyd run (5:37) 30-14
BU-Caleb Busch 2 run - PAT-Busch run (:43.3) 30-22
BU-Cash Gurney 5 run - PAT-Birch pass to Gurney (6:22) 30-30
BU-Caleb Busch 4 run - PAT-Koskela kick (9:57) 30-37
CC-Christian Rystrom 28 pass from Isaac Noyd - PAT-run failed (8:10) 36-37