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Aurora set to take on Pierce in C-1 final

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Aurora’s Carlos Collazo (2) escapes a tackle by Ashland-Greenwood’s Drake Zimmerman (11) during the 2022 season. Collazo and the Huskies take on Pierce in the Class C-1 state championship game Tuesday.

The Aurora football team has reached a state championship for the third consecutive year, this time in Class C-1.

The Huskies will play No. 2 Pierce (12-0) in the Class C-1 state championship game at 2:45 p.m. on Tuesday in Lincoln.

The shift from Class B to C-1 may pay off for the No. 1 Huskies (12-0), as the last time they were in the class was 2018, they won their last state title.

Coach Kyle Peterson said it’s been a fun year and thinks their tough schedule, against No. 5 Boone Central, No. 3 Ashland-Greenwood, No. 7 Adams Central, No. 8 Lincoln Christian and Class B No. 7 Northwest, has helped get them back.

“We’ve had a lot of success throughout that schedule,” Peterson said. “I think we’ve played a schedule that prepares us for a game like this, a game that’s going to be highly competitive on the state’s biggest stage. I think we’re playing our best football of the year. We’re as healthy as we can be. I know our kids are excited to get there and play.”

Aurora reached the championship by defeating Boone Central 40-19. The Huskies were up 20-12 at halftime and turned it into a 40-19 win.

“It’s not that we played poorly in the first half outside of that long touchdown right before the half that we would like to have back,” Peterson said. “We played really well in the first half against a really good Boone team. We knew we got the ball coming out to start the second half.

“The message was really simple. It was, ‘let’s come out and score on these first two possessions and go up two scores and continue to play well in all phases of the game.’ We were able to then get the punt block and went up three scores pretty quickly in the second half.”

While Aurora is led by senior running back Carlos Collazo, who has 1,930 yards and 31 touchdowns despite missing three games, the Huskies are a veteran team with many seniors starting who had significant playing time in last year’s runner-up team.

Some even played in 2020’s championship game that was at Elkhorn, where the Huskies lost 42-19.

“They expect to be successful,” Peterson said. “That’s the way they’ve always carried themselves. They have great leadership. Some of them lead by example and some are more vocal leaders. It’s a really nice mix of kids who play in different positions for us. We have skilled kids. We have seniors at the line of scrimmage. Four of our five offensive lineman are seniors. It’s a very senior heavy team and experienced team.”

Aurora’s offense, which averages 47 points per game, gets most of the attention. However, the Huskies defense is giving up just 15 points a game. Peterson credits the back half of their defense for not giving up the big play.

“It’s a group of guys that cover well and tackle well in space,” Peterson said. “Anytime you’re good in the back half of your defense, it allows you to do some things in the box to be a bit more aggressive and to make things challenging in the run game. Our defensive line play has been really good this year. We’re not very deep at those positions, but we have talented kids there and gotten solid play out of them throughout the season. We have a nice group of linebackers as well.”

That group will have their hands full with Pierce. Quarterback Abram Scholting has thrown for 2,019 yards, 39 touchdowns and four interceptions. Husker commit, tight end Ben Brahmer, 69 receptions, 1274 yards and 18 touchdowns. It’s hard to focus on that duo alone though, as running back Keenan Vaverde has rushed for 1,805 yards and 24 touchdowns.

“To some extent, you have to win certain possessions,” Peterson said. “You know you’re going to give up points when you place Pierce. You know you’re going to give up explosive plays in the passing game because they’re just so talented there. Do the best you can to make them drive the length of the field. Make them put together seven to 12 play drives rather than being so explosive because so many of their scoring possessions are one or two play possessions.

“So many one-on-one matchups that you’re going to get, and you have to win your fair share of those. You have to win open field tackling against really good players. You’re going to have to defend Brahmer one-on-one from time to time and make big plays. It’s likely to be a game where there’s quite a few points scored, so I think in some cases, the best way to defend them is to possess the ball too.”

Like Aurora, the Bluejays offense gets most of the attention since they average 50 points a game. But their defense is giving up just 19 points a game in the playoffs.

“They’re really big at the line of scrimmage,” Peterson said. “They’re extremely well coached. You’re not going to find one kid that’s ever out of position defensively for them. They’re talented in the back half of their defense. They have kids who can really run back there.

“They’ve fixed up some things that maybe were things that were presenting them some problems mid season when they were giving up some points. …The strength of that team is in their defensive line and how they can keep their shoulders square and keep everyone in front of them. They don’t get knocked off the ball, and they’re going to be a real challenge for us to block.”

With so much success in their careers, it would be easy for Aurora’s players to not think much about what it means. Peterson said they had one last reminder of it on Saturday morning before Tuesday’s big game.

“When it was 17 degrees and we were at practice, and we’d been out there for two hours, you kind of felt like maybe they were starting to feel sorry for themselves for being really cold,” Peterson said. “The message is that there’s a lot of people in the state that would like to be practicing right now. Let’s not for one second take for granted what we’ve been able to accomplish. Let’s enjoy the process and the ride we’re going to have.

“We talked about that on Saturday morning. It was pretty cold that day. This is a program that’s experienced a lot of success, and these kids expect to be in this game every year. Do you take it for granted? No, you don’t. You don’t want it to be any different.”

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