Bison enter playoffs on down note
Many McCook High School football fans might not remember the last time Holdrege had beaten the Bison in a varsity football contest.
Head coach Jeff Gross said it's been 14 years since that happened, but the Dusters broke the skid with a 20-7 victory over the Bison Oct. 22 at Weiland Field.
Maybe the dark field and dark, stormy skies in the area before the start of Friday's game could have been a black omen for the hosts. Electricity was knocked out all over the city about 6 p.m. The lights flickered back on about 45 minutes later, and that delayed the start of the scheduled 7 p.m. kickoff about a half-hour.
Judging by McCook's opening drive, the weather delay didn't have any effect. Senior quarterback Brad Baumbach, starting in place of junior Matt Chitwood, engineered a long drive after the Bison took the opening kickoff. McCook drove to the Holdrege 3-yard line, where the Dusters stopped junior fullback Justin Terry on a third-down run. Chitwood missed the field goal attempt, then lightning struck again.
On the next play, the Holdrege senior duo of quarterback Robbie Allmand and tight end Jared Nedrig hooked up on an 80-yard touchdown pass play, as Nedrig got behind the Bison defense. Baumbach nearly chased Nedrig down, but he could not bring down the 6-2 receiver, and the PAT kick gave the Dusters a 7-0 lead.
Holdrege scored again early in the second quarter when Allmond ran 11 yards for a touchdown to cap an 80-yard, 11-play drive. The Dusters forced a Bison punt, and the visitors drove downfield again before settling for Nedrig's 40-yard field goal and a 17-0 lead.
McCook moved the ball to midfield just before halftime, but Holdrege recovered a fumble to end McCook's threat. For at least one play. Sophomore Jake Schlager intercepted an Allmand pass on the next play to give the Bison one more shot before intermission. McCook got the ball to midfield before the first-half clock ran out.
The Bison defense stiffened in the third quarter, as Holdrege was held on downs on the opening second-half possession. McCook moved the ball to the Holdrege 26 in 11 plays, but backup fullback Keldon Osterman was stopped short on a fourth-down dive play.
Holdrege drove for another Nedrig field goal, with the march helped by a McCook face mask penalty. Nedrig's 42-yard kick gave the Dusters a 20-0 lead with 1:33 left in the third quarter.
Bison break through
McCook finally got on the board with a 15-play drive that covered 75 yards. Senior Branden Yost covered the final yard with 8:53 left in the final period, and Chitwood booted the PAT to pull the Bison within 20-7.
The hosts stopped Holdrege on its next possession, forcing a punt. McCook moved the ball downfield again deep in Holdrege territory, but the Dusters recovered a Bison fumble at the Holdrege 17. The visitors picked up three first downs to run out the clock for their rare Weiland Field victory.
More yards for Bison
The Bison actually out-gained Holdrege, with 330 total yards for McCook to 293 for the Dusters. The Bison rushed for 28 yards, with 42 more through the air. Holdrege had 193 rushing yards and 100 passing.
Coach Gross said one disappointing aspect of Friday's game was his view that Holdrege played like they wanted the game more than his Bison.
"I can't say I've been in a ball game where that's happened very often," Gross said. "I know that 14 years of futility builds up in the kids' mind. These kids are too young to remember the last time Holdrege beat us. The fact is the (Holdrege players) hear it from their families, from fans, from people -- they're basically bred to grow up and hate McCook and find a way to beat us.
"At some point that works against you, but there's going to be a time where it works for them. (Friday) night was one of those nights where their pure desire to get that game, get that monkey off their back was high enough that it happened."
Credit to Dusters
Coach Gross gave Holdrege credit for a strong performance.
"They are a senior-laden team, and they are 7-and-2 and the are the number four seed in the playoffs and they deserve it," he said. "Coach (Jason) Hale is a good friend of mine and I congratulate him on the victory, because that's a big monkey off his back. I've never gone through that, where you've had such futility against a program for so long. It was before Coach Hale was there, too.
"That's monkey's gone, they can enjoy their victory, they deserved it, and we'll get back to work and try and find a way to beat Adams Central."
Class B playoff pairings
Both teams will be in the Class B state playoff field with 7-2 records. McCook will be the third seed in the West half of the playoff bracket, with sixth-seed Adams Central coming to Weiland Field next Friday for a first-round contest set to kick off at 7 p.m.
McCook traveled to Hastings two weeks ago and rallied for a 15-14 win over the host Patriots.
Holdrege, the fourth seed, will host fifth-seed Beatrice next Friday, with the winner likely meeting top seed and unbeaten Crete in the quarterfinals. Crete (9-0) entertains eight-seed Scottsbluff (6-3) Friday.
The McCook-Adams Central winner faces the winner of second-seed Aurora (9-0) and seventh-seed Hastings High (5-4) a week from Friday in the quarterfinals.
Bison run defense
Gross said in pre-game interviews that Holdrege was a balanced offense, perhaps passing about 60 percent of the time. But the Dusters continually gouged the Bison defense with their rushing attack, especially in the first half as they built the huge lead.
Gross also said all the conditions were met for the Bison to be the top seed in the West bracket of the 16-team Class B playoff field -- except McCook did not win.
"Everyone took care of business for what we needed to happen for us to be the number-one seed, but ourselves," Gross said.
If McCook would have won and a few other pivotal games would have went the other way, the Bison would still have been seeded third and facing a first-round contest against Adams Central next Friday.
"Crete and Aurora deserve to be the top two seeds," Gross said. "We can walk away with some solace from that, but we can't walk away without fixing what ailed us (Friday night), and what ailed us was poor, poor, poor run defense. I've been here 13 years and it's been at least nine or 10 years since you've heard us say that.
"We've got to do a self-look in the mirror and see what we did wrong up front, and why we played so high and passive on the defensive line especially."
McCook stat leaders
Branden Yost led McCook with 95 yards on 17 rushing attempts. Baumbach added 75 yards on 14 carries. The senior also completed 5 of 7 passes for 42 yards. Senior Cody Goltl led McCook with three receptions for 42 yards.
The Bison may get Chitwood back in the lineup at quarterback next week. The junior was knocked out of the Adams Central game with an injury in the first quarter, and he has not played offense or defense since.
Coach Gross is expecting a tough battle in Friday's playoff rematch.
"(Adams Central's) going to have the revenge factor. It's tough to beat somebody two times, especially in three weeks," Gross said.