A dream journey that may have had its beginnings after a loss on this same field a year ago, was completed tonight as Coach Michael Spargo’s Dundy County/Stratton Tigers clawed its way to heart pounding, double overtime victory over Burwell in the Class D1 State Championship game.
The undefeated and number one rated Tigers, who never erased the 28-10 loss to this same Burwell team a year ago, took a 14-6 halftime lead, then had to fight their way back time and time again to win the prize.
When the smoke cleared, it was Dundy County/Stratton standing front and center, not at Memorial Stadium, but on Burwell’s home turf, claiming the trophy after posting a gut wrenching 42-36 win over the perennial powerhouse Longhorns.
It was a throwback game for the ages, resurrected from a long gone era when home town football teams hosted state championship games with fans, often times 2 to 3 deep, circling the football field. Only a world-wide pandemic could have set the stage for this one, and had it not been for a recent spike in Covid 19 cases in Lincoln, we would all have anxiously awaiting next Monday when the DundyCounty/Stratton kids could have fulfilled a life-long dream of playing at the House the Huskers built.
It was not to be though, as a hand-tied NSAA had to make a last minute call after being informed the games could not go on at the same Memorial Stadium where they had been staged since 1996.
But if you were Dundy County/Stratton, would it not be more gratifying to return to the same football field and have a chance to beat the team that ended your season a year ago……..at their house?
So, the stage was set for a pound-the-rock slobberknocker. featuring a team with a pair of three time 1000 yard rushers, one of whom is a career 5,000 yarder, and a home team with a 2,000 yard rushing battering ram. It was a head-to-head matchup with the two top offensive and defensive lines in all of Class D1 Eight-Man football. A matchup so close on paper, many sports scribes chose to even not make a prediction on the outcome.
Dundy County/Stratton was forced to punt on their opening possession, then Burwell did exactly what Michael Spargo didn’t want to happen. Feed the ball to Caleb Busch and watch to junior follow the right side of his O-Line (#4 Alex Gideon and #75 Hunter Mayfield) around the right side for big gains.
And that was exactly what the hard-running Busch did, toting the ball 6 times for 42 yards, chewing up yardage and fighting for yards after contact, as the Longhorns advanced the football from their own 13 to the Tiger 7 yard line. But then came the play that would define Dundy County/Stratton football on this Championship Friday.
The Tiger defense came up big on a 4th and 2 at their own seven, stuffing speedy, tough running Cash Gurney for a no-gainer. Dundy had just set the all important tone for the game, turning Burwell away in the Red Zone and the tone was set for the remainder of the evening.
The Dundy offense did exactly what the doctor ordered on the ensuing possession, driving the ball the other way with offensive juggernauts Quade Myers and Serby Diaz leading the way.
After Myers ripped off a 9 yard gain and first down at the Burwell 28, the junior quarterback may have caught Burwell by surprise. Myers spotted sensational sophomore Corbin Horner on a down and out pattern and nailed him with a 28 yard scoring strike. BANG!
A Serbando Diaz run for the double PAT was turned away by the Longhorns and Dundy had themselves a 6-0 lead with 2:38 left in the opening stanza. But Burwell answered right back on the ensuing possession.
Following a strong 35 yard kick return by a “faster-than-you-think” Caleb Busch, the fabulous junior running toted the pigskin on every play but two, advancing the football to the Dundy one yard line where Barak Birch finished off the drive with a one yard scoring plunge.
Quade Myers blew in to block place kicker Cashimir Koselka’s PAT boot and it was all square at six, 45 seconds deep into the 2nd quarter.
Dundy answered right back with a 9 play, 3 minute drive of their own, Serbando Diaz culminating the drive with a lightning quick, don’t blink or you’ll miss it, 14 yard touchdown run. This time the Tigers converted the 2 point conversion with Quade Myers skirting on around the end for the deuce.
It didn’t take Burwell long to have a response to Dundy’s score. Beginning the possession from their own 35 with 3:44 left in until halftime, it was Caleb Busch, Barak Birch and Cash Gurney all picking up big yardage gains. By the 1:41 mark, Burwell was already on the Dundy County/Stratton 8 yard line with a first and goal situation.
Busch then carried to the 7, banged ahead to the 2, but once again the Tiger defense stiffened and stuffed Caleb Busch one foot short of the goal line on 4th down.
Dundy elected to pull off a “go-for-it-all” pass play in the shadow of their own goal post after the big stop, but Quade Myers long heave sailed over both Corbin Horner and Burwell defender Dillion Crital’s heads. Serbando Diaz then sailed into the heart of the Longhorn defense for a two yard gain and the first half was in the books with the Tigers owning a 14-6 advantage over Burwell on the Longhorn’s home field.
The third quarter belonged to Burwell. There would be no goal line stands by Dundy in this frame. The Longhorns established control, consuming only two minutes, forty six seconds, 7 plays, and a whole lotta Caleb Busch running, before the junior bolted in for a 9 yard touchdown run. The PAT run failed and Dundy still had a 14-12 lead.
The Tigers wanted to answer right back and they did just that. Well, they did, but a personal foul penalty call on Dundy nullified a fabulous 26 yard touchdown sprint by Quade Myers. I’m still not clear who was flagged and why, but the costly infraction wiped out touchdown, setting the Tigers back to the Burwell 37. The Longhorn defense then dug in, and the drive was snuffed out four plays later at the Horns 23.
It was then Dundy’s turn to dig in, throwing Caleb Busch for a 3 yard loss back to the 20, but Barak Birch countered the negative play with his first pass completion of the game, a nifty 9 yard strike to Cash Gurney. The play must have sparked some extra life into the Longhorn offensive line because the Horns boys up front opened up holes, enabling Caleb Busch, who ended the night with a massive 216 yards on 42 carries, to gobble up gains of 9, 20, 2, and 5 yards before crashing in from 17 yards out, giving the Longhorns their first lead of the D1 Title game.
I’m telling you, when Caleb Busch gets a head of steam, it’s really difficult to stop this guy for a minimal gain, especially when he gets rolling with that low pad level.
Anyway, Barak Birch then found big 210 pound Alex Gideon for the double PAT and the Longhorns had a 20-14 lead and BIG MO on their side. Or did they?
If Burwell had gained the momentum, it certainly was short lived. After a fine booming kickoff by the Longhorns resulted in a touchback, it didn’t take long for Dundy to answer the Caleb Bisch touchdown.
Spargo’s boys moved the ball 65 yards in 12 plays before Serbando Diaz zipped into the end zone, aided by a crunching block by big 6-4, 290 pound Keegan Krutsinger. Quade Myers double extra point pass fell incomplete after the Tiger quarterback was hounded relentlessly on the PAT try.
With the game now into the 4th and money quarter, the two D1 Giants were again all square, the scoreboard reading 20-20 and the time remaining in someone’s season; 11:48.
Both defenses then went to work on the next possessions for each team. Dundy forced a three and out following the Diaz touchdown, then Burwell returned the favor by halting the Tigers on a 4th and 4 at their own 33 yard line.
With 7 minutes remaining in the game, Burwell had a golden opportunity in their grasp. Dundy County/Stratton knew what was coming, a heavy dose of #16. Caleb Busch once again took the handoff coming across the Burwell backfield left to right, following the blocking of Hunter Mayfield and Alex Dawe.
Busch moved the ball 10 yards in two plays, was stuffed for a no gainer by a surging Serbando Diaz and Keegan Krutsinger, bagged his way to another first and ten at the Dundy 10 yard line. Then it happened.
A critical HOLDING call on the next play moved the ball back to the Dundy 20, Busch was then spilled for a 3 yard loss, then Longhorn QB Barak Birch lost more yards when the senior was sacked for a 10 yard loss.
It appeared Dundy had stopped the Longhorns, who were facing a 4th and Goal at the Tiger 26. But once again, the magic of senior signal caller/team leader Barak Birch came through. The senior quarterback calmly dropped back three steps and fired a perfect 26 yard touchdown strike to Dillon Critel, who was streaking across the field on a crossing pattern, giving Luke Gideon’s boys a 26-20 lead with 3:32 remaining.
Birch then hit the repeat button and calmly nailed Alex Gideon for the 2 point conversion and Burwell once again had Dundy on the ropes, leading 28-20.
The ensuing Dundy County drive, which began on the their 15, nearly died at the Tiger 37, but a holding call on a pass play by Burwell kept it going. The Tigers kept grinding and powering their way downfield, before Serby Diaz crashed in from 3 yards out with just 47 seconds left in regulation.
But once again Dundy faced adversity, trailing 28-26, needing a 2 point conversion to avoid another empty ride back to Benklemen. Quade Myers dropped back to pass, was chased around like a 6-Man quarterback running for his life, finally reversing his field before finding, who else, but Serby Diaz for the critical 2 point conversion.
The teams were once again deadlocked at 28 and this baby was headed for OVERTIME. I wonder what former Tiger star Phalen Sanford was thinking about this time?
A humorous thing happened at that point in time at that point. At least two gentlemen from Burwell asked me what the rules of a high school overtime consisted of. The comments took me by surprise for a moment, before it hit me. These fans are so used to blowout win after blowout win, never having anyone close enough to force an overtime. If Burwell was in a close game like the past two weeks, they usually win by a single point. Must be nice.
*The First Overtime;
*Dundy won the coin toss prior to the extra period, but deferred to be on defense, which many teams do. But the Tiger defense was barely set when Burwell ran the Caleb Busch bread and butter play. Ten yards, the left side of the Dundy defense sealed off, and Busch made it look academic with the 10 yard touchdown run.
Dundy barely had time to realize what just happened before Barak Busch dropped back to fire a two point PAT toss to a wide open Cash Gurney. Now it was Burwell 36-28.
*Tigers Turn. Quade Myers carried ahead to the 7, Serby Diaz ripped a courageous five yard gain right into the heart of the Longhorn defense before Myers outsprinted the Burwell defense for the 2 yard touchdown scamper.
Crunch time for TigerTown. Either convert a double PAT or line up for the dreaded Runner-up trophy. Quade Myers then pulled a Barak Birch and fired a perfect two point PAT pass to super soph Corbin Horner. It’s now 36-36.
*The 2nd Overtime;
Now, Nebraska high school overtime rules state that the team who has the ball last in the initial overtime period, will then begin the next period on offense as well, giving the opponent an opportunity to have the final shot on offense.
*NOW, Dundy County/Stratton has a real live opportunity to score, convert the PAT and take the lead, putting the pressure on the tradition rich Longhorns. And did the Tigers ever do that. Quade Myers took the snap, followed the Butter and Syrup boyz, waltzing into the endzone on one glorious ten yard play.
No time for celebration here because now comes the all important point after attempt. The Dundy staff calls for a repeat performance PAT pass from Quade Myers, but Burwell DB Dillon Critel, who was a defensive star all evening, would have none of it, batting the Myers pass away. Dundy County/Stratton 42, Burwell 36.
Time seemed to a stand still at this point. I sent out a jumbled text stating that the Tigers had taken a 42-36 lead…….or something like that. A senseless group of of $%))*)(U(^ may also have been included in that quivering text.
*BURWELL’S TURN: No surprise here. My five year old granddaughter Ari could have predicted Burwell’s first down play call. Yep, it was Caleb Busch around his right side for NINE yards. Only a game saving tackle at the one yard line saved the touchdown.
But hold on. It wouldn’t have mattered anyway. Burwell was flagged for another critical holding call. The yellow flag laid still on the 6 yard line, signifying the 10 yard punishment for the infraction.
The ‘Horns were now 16 yards away, not wishing to pull a repeat runner-up performance from a year ago when they came up a touchdown short to a now defunct co-op of Osceola/High Plains in the Class D2 Championship.
Burwell stuck with the Caleb Busch running attack, sending the two thousand yard rusher on his 40th tote of the game, a six yard gainer to the ten yard line. The Tigers then crashed in to limit Busch for a 2 yard advance to the 8 on second down.
Third and Goal for the Longhorns and Birch drops back to pass. Now it’s his turn to run around like a 6-Man quarterback with only one man in pursuit. But this is 8-Man football folks, and there are guys like 5-11, 240 pound Delton Haines and 6-4, 290 pound Keegan Krutsinger running the Burwell quarterback down.
Birch had to get rid of the football early to avoid the sack and the ball sailed harmlessly away from the intended receiver. Dundy County/Stratton had ‘em where they wanted ‘em now, right? WRONG.
The officials see a hand graze across the facemask of Barak Birch on the play, and the 5 yard penalty moves the ball to the Dundy 5 yard line. Still 3rd down.
By now the Tigers defense is fuming, but holding it in. Birch feeds the ball to Caleb Busch and the junior is snowed under by a clawing group of Tiger defenders for NO GAIN.
***The masses circling the Burwell field each take a deep breath as the Longhorns approach the line of scrimmage. This is old hat to Burwell. A touchdown, a PAT and a State Championship would be semi-routine for the Longhorns, who have a list of All-Staters longer than a 5 year old’s Christmas list.
On the other side standing tall, is a Dundy County/Stratton squad, prepared for this very moment by a former star quarterback who cut his teeth at Ventura (Cal) St. Bonaventure high school. A QB named Michael Spargo, who fed the ball to a back named Lorenzo Booker, who went on to star at Florida State and play in the NFL for the Philadelphia Eagles, Minnesota Vikings and Chicago Bears.***
The 4th down and 5 center snap was a bit high to Burwell quarterback Barak Birch, but the veteran pulled it down in time to hand the ball off to Caleb Busch. But the slight delay is all All-State Dundy lineman Keegan Krutsinger needed to spill Busch for a four yard loss, giving the Tigers their first State Football Championship ever.
Serbando Diaz led the way for the D1 State Champion Tigers, running for 169 yards on 35 carries and 3 touchdowns. QB Quade Myers followed with 117 yards on 22 totes and two touchdowns, both coming in the overtime periods.
Myers also completed 3 of 9 passes for 53 yards and the 28 yard scoring pass to Corbin Horner. Lincoln Waters caught the remaining two Myers tosses for 24 yards.
For Burwell, it was the power running Caleb Busch leading all rushers with his 216 yards on a grueling 42 carries with two touchdowns. That unofficially gives Busch a state leading 2,405 yards and more importantly, set a school rushing record at running back-rich Burwell, eclipsing the old record of 2,265 yards set by Tori Huffman back in 2016. Cash Gurney, Caleb’s junior classmate, added 49 yards on 8 carries.
Barak Busch completed 4 of 8 aerials for 59 yards and a pair of scoring passes.
Dundy County/Stratton (12-0)....6…….8…….0…….14…...8……..6………..42
DCS - Corbin Horner 28 pass from Quade Myers - PAT-Run failed (2:38) 0-6
BU - Barak Birch 1 run - PAT-kick blocked (Myers) (11:25) 6-6
DCS - Serbando Diaz 14 run - PAT-Quade Myers run (3:47) 6-14
BU - Caleb Busch 9 run - PAT-Run failed (9:14) 12-14
BU - Alex Gideon 17 pass from Barak Busch - PAT-Cash Gurney run (3:03) 20-14
DCS - Serbando Diaz 6 run - PAT-Pass failed (11:48) 20-20
BU - Dillon Critel 26 pass from Barak Birch- PAT-Birch pass to Alex Gideon (3:32) 28-20
DCS - Serbando Diaz 3 run - PAT-Q. Myers pass to S. Diaz (0:47) 28-28
BU - Caleb Busch 10 run - PAT-Birch pass to Gurney (Dead clock) 36-28
DCS - Quade Myers 2 run - PAT-Q. Myers pass to C. Horner (Dead clock) 36-36