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Islander Juggernaut rolls on to Class A Title Game.

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Islander Juggernaut rolls on to Class A Title Game.

Grand Island junior All-State candidate had another huge game in the Islander's Class A semifinal 37-30 win over Bellevue West Friday night.  *(photo by Bobby Mills) 

The minds that are immersed deep into the game of high school football, and have been for decades, are beginning to think the same way.

As long as Islander quarterback Cole Evans is able to suit up and direct the offense, this Grand Island team may not lose a game.

So far, that’s been chalk, and after putting the stat clipboard in my bag for the first time in my life due to the inability to write because of the frigid temps, I was able to roam the sidelines, observe a game close up without looking away to write or tweet, and see where those “minds” may have drawn that conclusion.

After spending a much of Game Day with the Bellevue West coaching staff and players, (a deal postponed from October 8th), it was apparent how dangerous and well coached this Thunderbird team was, entering this semifinal matchup.

You see this all over Omaha area, teams dotted with Division One football talent, and this year has been exceptional. The Bellevue Wests, Omaha Burkes, Omaha Norths, and Omaha Westside’s of the Metro area, have at least one and more on the way.

Yes, you may be able to devise an offensive or defensive game plan to limit the damage these terrific players can do, but do you have the personnel to stop them?

But…..what transpires when these one of these teams, with elite talent sprinkled throughout, faces a football team that might be classified as a “faceless opponent”?

You’ve all heard the pre-game speech some of the greats have delivered prior to a big game. “Men, they are just a faceless opponent who just drew the short straw tonight.”

Recall that phrase from Kenny Chesney’s hit record, “Boys of Fall”?

That’s all well and good, but what if that opponent has superior field leader and a whole slew of faceless, but talented players, that mesh together like a pair of Saks 5th Avenue Deerskin Gloves?

It’s called Nightmare City in the Film Room. Players that have no names, just numbers, and no matter who they throw at you, all are well-versed at what makes their machine click. And they never seem to get tired….or cold…..or down in the dumps.

That’s Grand Island.

They’ve played as underdogs in big games this season, but never, ever in their own eyes. They’ve been termed “David” or “giant killers” after big wins, but those wins keep happening.

And then, on the drive back from Bellevue West last night, I heard it all. A radio sports guy talking about “could it, would it be possible for Grand Island to beat thee mighty Omaha Burke in the Class A State Championship game.

He used the phrase “biggest upset in the history of Class A football, if the Islanders were to win that one. I’m sorry sir, but Omaha Burke wouldn’t even believe that one. They’re too smart going into the championship game.

About last night. All know by now, GI needed no come from behind “miracle” to win this one. Coach Tomlin knew a quick start would be needed for a cushion against this high-powered Thunderbird offense.

That’s precisely what the Islanders did, scoring on their first two possessions of the night, to grab a 14-0 lead. But Jeff Tomlin, along with Thunderbird head man Michael Huffman and 90% of the fans in the stands knew that lead wasn’t safe, despite the bone-chilling temps.

It wasn’t.

The explosive T-Bird offense quickly responded with a pair of touchdowns of their own. The first coming on a big time 22 yard TD grab by Nebraska commit, Zavier Betts. QB Evan Keiser put the football right into the Division One hands of Betts, who pulled it out the the frozen sky a foot away from the end line.

Then Zavier’s junior classmate Jay Ducker twisted and slithered his way for a 12 yard score. Both Thunderbird double PAT attempts were run out of an old Hastings St. Cecilia formation with the QB, center and wide receiver on the near hash mark, and the remainder of the team lined up at the far hash. Didn’t work out either time.

Grand Island’s Cole Evans then scored from 2 yards out, Bell West then countered with Duck’s 2nd score of the night on a 1 yard run. Cruz Jurado booted the single point after, and GI still owned a 21-19 lead.

Then came a little Russ Harvey (Islander offensive coordinator) trickery, but not without some help.

Grand Island was on the Thunderbird 16 yard line with one more play left in the first half. Keyin Wentling comes in to attempt a 26 yard field goal, the Thunderbirds block the kick, but Coach Huffman had called a timeout right before the snap apparently trying ice Wentling.

During the timeout, either Russ Harvey or Coach Tomlin slipped Cole Evans into the game to be the holder. Evans entry apparently went undetected, he took the snap, raised up and fired a 16 yard TD strike to Caleb Francl. The PAT attempt is blocked, but the Islanders have a 27-19 halftime lead and are set to receive the 2nd half kickoff after the break.

Safe lead? Nope.

Bellevue West forces and recovers a fumble on GI’s first play from scrimmage. Jay Ducker eventually scores on a 22 yard run, Justin Chaney blasts in for the 2 point conversion, and things are all square at 27.

The teams battled back and forth with Grand Island adding a go-ahead score on Timo Sikes 5 yard run, but the turning point came when Caleb Francl made diving interception, then Wentling added a 23 yard field goal, giving the Islanders a 2 possession, 37-27 lead, in the all important 4th quarter.

All through the second half, I was thinking Bellevue West would need at least one more turnover, maybe even a pair, to gain a lead over this Grand Island team. It just seemed as though the Thunderbirds were behind the 8-ball all night, but never really out of the game.

Too many short fields for the Islanders in the first half didn’t help matters for Michael Huffman’s forces either.

Grand Island beat a very good Bellevue West team last night, a surging Millard South team before that, and a Class A favored Omaha North squad prior to that.

Anybody believe in this team yet?

Next up, the Class A Championship game Monday, November 19th at 7:00 pm, Memorial Stadium. Will the Cinderella slipper shatter for Grand Island?

There is no Cinderella slipper. Never was. Jeff Tomlin knew he had an All-State caliber quarterback in Cole Evans before the 2018 season even began. He told me so during my pre-season interview on my Endzone Online Show.

He also knew Evans had a fine surrounding offensive cast and like everyone else around the state knows…..an always great, Jeff Tomlin Islander defense.

It took exactly one game to prove that, the opening night 46-0 win over Kearney. You just don’t do that to a Brandon Cool coached Kearney team, you see, but the Islanders did it.

Now it’s Grand Island and Omaha Burke for all the Class A, big-boy marbles. Burke has a bitter taste in it’s mouth from barely missing that Class A Final game a year ago. And Grand island?

They have written their own story in 2018. Just fasten your seat belts and enjoy this baby a week from Monday. The best two teams in Class A will be displayed at Memorial Stadium 10 days from now.

Stay tuned.

……………………………...1……..2……..3…….4……….T

Grand Island (10-2)...........14…...13…….7…….3………37

Bellevue West (10-2)..........6…....13...….8….....3……...30

1st Qtr……………………..………………………………..…….GI - BW

GI - Caleb Francl 2 run - (Keyin Wentling kick).......................7…...0…….(7:53)

GI - John Reilly 26 run - (Wentling kick)..................................14…..0....…(2:47)

BW-Zavier Betts 22 pass from Evan Keiser - (pass failed).....14…..6…….(0:28)

2nd Qtr.

BW-Jay Ducker 12 run - (pass failed)......................................14….12……(8:43)

GI- Cole Evans 2 run - (Wentling kick).....................................21….12……(6:45)

BW-Ducker 2 run - (Cruz Jurado (kick)....................................21….19…....(2:23)

GI - Francl 16 pass from Evans - (kick blocked)......................27….19…....(0:00)

3rd Qtr.

BW-Ducker 2 run - (Justin Chaney run)....................................27…..27…...(11:13)

GI - Timo Sikes 5 run - (Wentling kick).....................................34…..27……(4:24)

4th Qtr.

GI - Keyin Wentling 22 Field Goal…………………….………....37….27…….(8:50)

BW-Cruz Jurado 22 Field Goal…………...………………..…….37….30…….(4:17)

Rushing - GI - Caleb Francl 92-20, John Reilly 86-11, Cole Evans 28-6, Timo Sikes 14-7, R. Krolikowski 3-1. BW - Jay Ducker 188-27, Evan Keiser 53-9, Justin Chaney 3-6.

Passing - GI - Cole Evans 22-35-226 - 1 TD, no INTs. BW - Evan Keiser 17-29-151 1 TD, 2 INTs

Receiving - GI - Broc Douglass 6-96, Caleb Francl 3-56 (1 TD), Carson Cahoy 8-44, John Reilly 3-18, Timo Sikes 1-11, John Reilly 1-1.

Tackles - GI - Sam Sims 14 total (2 solo, 12 assists), Kodjo Atikpohou 11 (5-6), Caleb Francl 10 (2-8), Keyin Wentling 10 (4-6), Blake Roudebush 8 (1-7), Jack Wemhoff 6 (3-3), Mateo Martinez 4 (0-4), Broc Douglass 3 (3-0), Ace McKinnis 3 (3-0), Kyle Sextro 3 (2-1), Alex Rodriguez 3 (0-3), Jackson Sikes 1 (1-0).

Interceptions - Kodjo Atikpohou-1, Ace McKinnis-1

Passes Defended - Ace McKinnis-4, Broc Douglass-3, Keyin Wentling-2, Kodjo Atikpohou-1, Jordan Hofeldt-1

Recovered Fumbles - Caleb Francl-1

Kick-Offs - Jackson Sikes - 6 for 217 yards (36.2) Longest-46

Punts - Matt Jurgensmeier 4 for 119 yards (29.8), Longest-32, 1 inside 20.

Kick Returns - Kodjo Atikpohou 2-47, Caleb Francl 2-13, Timo Sikes 1-6

Punt Returns - None

Place Kicking - Keyin Wentling 4-5 PATS, 1 for 1 Field Goals (23 yards)

Grand Island Offensive Season Leaders heading into State Championship Game:

Passing - Cole Evans 111-180 - 1,421 yards (59.7%) - 20 TDs, 9 INTs (164 yards/game, 12.8/completion)

Rushing - John Reilly - 928 yards on 185 carries with 12 TDs, Caleb Francl - 513-75 - 10 TDs, Timo Sikes, 291-52 - 7 TDs, Cole Evans - 258-46 - 2 TDs.

Receiving - Broc Douglass - 884 yards on 52 receptions (17/catch) with 7 TDs, Caleb Francl - 240-14 (17.1/catch) - 5 TDs, John Reilly - 191-29 (6.6/catch) - 2 TDs, Kyle Sextro - 119-9 (13.1/catch) 2 TDs. Others with one TD reception each: Ben Reilly, Carson Cahoy, Keyin Wentling, Timo Sikes.

All-Purpose Yards - Broc Douglass - 37 rushing, 884 receiving, 345 kick returns, 462 punt returns - 1,728 yards (144/game).

Leading Tacklers - Caleb Francl 93 total tackles (27 solos, 56 assists), Sam Sims 82 (24 solo), Jordan Hofeldt 74 (16 solo), Jack Wemhoff 74 (23 solo), Kodjo Atikpohou 63 (29 solo).

Tackles for Loss - Caleb Francl-13.5 (3 sacks), Mateo Martinez 6.5 (1 sack)

Interceptions - Ben Reilly 4, Kodjo Atikpohou and Ace McKinnis - 3 each,

Recovered fumbles - Caleb Francl, Kodjo Atikpohou, Keyin Wentling -2 each.

Punting - Matt Jurgensmeier - 37 punts for a 35.0 average.

Kick-offs - Jackson Sikes - 47 kickoffs for an average of 41.8 with 3 touchbacks

PATS and Field Goals - Keyin Wentling 53 of 57 PATS, 5 of 5 FGs (39 longest).

Touchdowns - Caleb Francl 16, John Reilly 14.

*Grand Island has 5 Pick-Six defensive scores this season (Atikpohou-2, Hofeldt, Francl, Ben Reilly 1 each)

*Broc Douglass has returned 2 Punts for TDs, Kodjo Atikpohou and Ben Reilly have each have recorded a kick return touchdown.

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