Festivities surrounding the 7 p.m. contest at Memorial Stadium started on Thursday, when members of Grand Island's 1953 state championship team kicked off a reunion. Those old-time Islanders — along with members of the '78 squad that also won a state title — hope to bring their current counterparts a needed change of fortune entering their district opener.
"It's a real big deal,” said Grand Island split end Andy Heuermann. "It shows us what a state championship team is. That kind of pumps us up.”
Any extra motivation that the older Islanders create will be welcomed by Grand Island coach Jeff Tomlin. He's as fired up about the champions reunion as Heuermann and his teammates are.
"It's going to be a real special night,” Tomlin said. "Obviously I'm excited about it because it generates enthusiasm for our program. Our kids get a chance to be around some former great players and be around the great tradition that Grand Island football has.”
Beating Fremont (1-3) would help Grand Island (0-4) build on that tradition. The Tigers are one of five district foes that the Islanders will face. The top three teams in each Class A district — based on results against district rivals only — qualify for the playoffs.
"We just look at it as a new season,” Heuermann said. "We can still make the playoffs even though we're 0-4.”
Tomlin said Grand Island has improved enough to reach the postseason. The Islanders turned in their best defensive effort of the year last week during an overtime loss to Columbus.
"The bottom line for us is it's our second season,” Tomlin said. "It's district play now. Every game is real crucial as far as district standings and having a chance at the postseason. We want to play our best.”
Fremont is coming off a 61-12 thumping of Papillion-LaVista South, a first-year program that's guided by former Grand Island coach Mark Fritch. The Tigers take advantage of size up front to create running room for I-back Nick Bartlett. Bartlett scored five touchdowns while racking up 216 rushing yards against Papillion-LaVista South.
"They're coming off a big win where they scored a lot of points,” Tomlin said. "They obviously have some confidence. They're a dangerous team from that standpoint and present a match-up problem or two with us.”
The old-time Islanders will have breakfast and play a round of golf before taking part in a tailgate party that starts at 5 p.m. The older Islanders will say a few words in the Grand Island locker room prior to kickoff and also help form a human tunnel that the players will walk through.
At halftime, a special ceremony that honors both championship teams will be held.
"It should motivate us a lot,” Heuermann said. "It's probably the first game they've seen in a while at Senior High. We just want to win for them.”
Tomlin said his team wants to "make a statement with our effort and how hard we're playing.”
"Our kids do realize that they have a school and a program with a rich tradition,” Tomlin said. "They've got a lot of people that are alumni that are behind them.”
KSYZ (107.7 FM) will broadcast the contest.
Lexington (2-2) at Northwest (2-2)
Taking a look at themselves gives the Grand Island Northwest Vikings a pretty good idea of what to expect from Lexington on Friday.
"I'd say our two teams are real similar in what we're trying to get done and size-wise, too,” said Northwest coach Tony Allgood. "We look real comparable.”
Both teams bring dangerous ground games into the 7 p.m. game at Viking Field that is the first home contest for Northwest in a month. Not having to travel could be a big plus for Allgood's team, which spent the last three weeks taking on tough foes that were making their home debuts.
"It's going to be nice to be on our field, not have to travel and be able to get in our facility at halftime,” Allgood said. "The last two weeks we had to go in the corner of the end zone and under a baseball stand. Just having a place to go at halftime will be nice.”
Northwest and Lexington both use offensive formations that force opposing defenses to be spread out across the field. Lexington's top threat is Zach Jones, a senior who rushed for 204 yards on 22 carries during last week's win against Scottsbluff.
"Their halfback is a good runner,” Allgood said. "He picks the hole and tries to get through it. He likes to bounce things to the outside, sees the field well and cuts well.”
Containing Jones will be a top priority for a Northwest defense that has been hurt defensively by ball carriers attacking the outside. Quarterbacks must decide whether to pitch the football while running the option.
"The first thing we have to do is not give up the option and the sweep which we've been hurt with the last few weeks,” Allgood said. "That's where it all starts.
"If we handle things on the perimeter we feel like we're going to be in good shape. We don't want them getting out on that perimeter.”