Whew. The long march to Lincoln is over.
Falls City Sacred Heart out-dueled Wynot Monday afternoon in the semifinals of the Class D2 playoffs and escaped with a 61-44 victory to secure the school’s first state finals appearance since 1994 and their first ever at the home of the Cornhuskers.
The top-ranked and still undefeated Irish (12-0) handed No. 3 Wynot (11-1) their first loss of the season and in doing do will play for the D2 state championship next Monday afternoon at 2:45 at One Memorial Drive.
“It’s great for these kids,” said FCSH head coach Doug Goltz, who entered Monday’s game with an 0-4 record in state semifinals since winning six-straight championships from 1989-94. “Last year we made it to the semifinals and they got a taste of being that close. I think this year they knew how close they were, they knew what it would take to get here and busted their tails all season long. They are such a great group to coach and I’m happy for them that they get a chance to play at Memorial Stadium.
“The whole game, with that many points being scored, was kind of a blur, but the stop right before the half was huge. They get that touchdown and they have all the momentum, instead we took the momentum and the lead into the half.”
The stop Goltz was referring to, which was one of only a handful the entire game by either team, came at the Irish one-yard line with one second left on the clock and the Irish clinging to a 40-32 lead. Wynot quarterback Jackson Sudbeck’s pass fell incomplete, as did the Blue Devils hopes of tying the game before the intermission.
Wynot, behind Sudbeck’s three second-quarter TD passes, stormed back in the game after trailing 26-8 at the end of the first, but the Irish made the play and kept the momentum.
“In that second quarter we were kind of reeling,” Goltz said. “Their offense is just so tough to defend because the quarterback puts the ball on the money and they’ve got a lot of guys who can catch the ball. They decided to just run that combo route on one side or the other and (Davis) Wieseler got to the middle on the post route too many times and that’s what we talked about trying to take away the second half. Wieseler is a great, great end. He’s as good as I’ve seen in a long, long time.”
Goltz pointed to his defensive line’s effort and said despite their final sack numbers for the game, the pressure frustrated Sudbeck.
The Irish held the prolific Wynot offense, which entered the game averaging 54 points per game, to 12 second-half points and came up with two huge interceptions in the fourth quarter. Irish senior Jarod Fiegener’s first interception of the season came with 7:51 left in the game and FCSH clinging to a 47-44 lead. That came after senior Chaz Dunn picked off Sudbeck for the second time early in the fourth quarter with the Irish leading by only two, 40-38.
Sudbeck still finished the game with 413 yards passing and five touchdowns, but the majority of the yards and three of the TD passes came in the first half.
“We made a few adjustments at halftime to take away the long ball to Wieseler,” Goltz said. “We moved Austin (Malone) to the middle and we also sort of backed off, kind of daring them to run it and Chaz had some big interceptions. The whole defense played great and it was really a great team effort.”
Dunn first interception came on the Blue Devils’ second drive of the game as they were threatening to score with the ball deep in Irish territory.
Defensively, Wynot rarely had an answer for Goltz and the Irish. FCSH scored touchdowns on nine of their 15 possessions and that included two turnovers two punts and taking knees on their final possession to end the game.
The Irish scored on their first four possessions, three came via the arm of Dunn and the other via the legs of junior running back Sawyer Kean. Dunn found senior Colin Niemeyer for a 41-yard TD pass on the first Irish drive, then Kean raced 20 yards for a score to put FCSH ahead 14-0 with 5:14 left in the first quarter.
Wynot’s failed fourth-and-one attempt set up Dunn’s second TD pass of the game – a 29-yard pass to Malone on fourth down and four with 2:19 remaining in the first – and moments later, Dunn again found Malone who raced 49 yards to the end zone and put FCSH ahead 26-8.
Kean and Dunn each added TD runs of three and 54 yards, respectively, in the second quarter to keep the Irish in front, but Kean’s workload increased in the second half as the Irish looked to keep the ball away from Sudbeck and the Wynot offense.
“The offense did a really nice job,” said Goltz. “We thought our offense was going to be able to take care of the ball well enough and it did. The first half Wynot did a pretty good job of defending our speed option, so we kind of changed the blocking scheme a little bit and we were able to spring Sawyer loose and he reads blocks well. The first half they did a pretty good job of scheming us, but I thought in the second half we did a good job of out-scheming them a little bit.”
Kean finished with a game-high 220 yards and four TDs on 29 carries.
Dunn threw for 233 yards and five touchdowns on 15-of-22 attempts. Dunn now has 1,725 yards passing on the season and surpassed Brian Lemerond’s single-season mark of 1,528 yards set in 1998. Dunn also added to his single-season TD pass record, which currently sits at 31 on the year.
Malone led the Irish receivers with six catches for 113 yards and three touchdowns, while Niemeyer caught two TD passes – both in the first half – for 76 yards. Scheitel added three catches for 25 yards and Kean caught a pair of a passes for 13 yards.
FCSH will face No. 7 Stuart in Monday’s championship game, after Stuart defeated No. 10 Amherst 30-8 Monday afternoon in Stuart.
Stuart, coached by Lance Howitt who is in his 11th year, will be playing in their first state final and are led by Alex Kunz. The senior signal-caller has rushed for 1,680 yards, passed for another 1,220 and accounted for 49 touchdowns.
Kickoff for Monday’s Class D2 state championship is set for 2:45 p.m. and will be televised live on NET1.