The Falls City Tigers are returning to the State Football Playoffs.
The NSAA’s seemingly uncontrollable impulse to tinker with the playoff format couldn’t prevent FC’s return and neither could the Syracuse Rockets, as Falls City Friday went ahead and made the postseason plans with a commanding 25-16 victory at Syracuse.
The 7-1 Tigers left no doubt as to which high school in the Class C1-1 District possesses the best football team. Senior Jack Hartman threw for 196 yards and completed three touchdown passes and also rushed 20 times for 72 yards in leading his team to its signature win of ‘14. On the other side of the ball, the Tiger defense pushed the heralded Syracuse offensive line aside and limited the Rockets to 53 rushing total rushing yards.
“It’s unusual that you get to the second-to-last game of the season and not know what you have in your team,” three-year Coach Darin Fritz, whose not once in his coaching career seen a season end on time, told the Lincoln Journal-Star. “We didn’t have a close game. I didn’t know how we’d respond when we got in a tough, physical game.
“I like how we responded.”
Falls City, after using Hartman’s arm and senior Jordy Stoller’s hands and feet to lead 12-10 at halftime, responded with its trademark running attack after Syracuse took a 16-12 lead on the opening drive of the third quarter.
The Tigers mashed Syracuse for 57 yards before a 13-yard TD pass from Hartman to Lee Huettner put them ahead for good, 18-16. The next Falls City possession went 54 yards, and this time Hartman scored on a three-yard run just seconds into the final quarter.
Falls City gained 127 rushing yards in the second half after having just 24 before halftime.
“In the second half, we came out and ran the ball. We wanted to be physical,” Fritz told the Lincoln J-S. “That’s what we’re all about.”
Hartman’s first of three scoring strikes came after he scrambled in the pocket on fourth-and-15, glanced the ball off a Syracuse defender and into Stoller’s hands.
The second Hartman-to-Stoller connection more resembled an option and covered 93 yards along the Syracuse sideline.
Syracuse took its opening possession 47 yards and gained a 7-0 lead on QB Tanner Harsin’s one-yard sneak. Braxtyn DeGolyer’s 24-yard field goal with 5:28 left in the half narrowed the margin to 12-10 and Harsin’s 21-yard TD pass to Chris Goble gave the Rockets a 16-12 lead as the second half got underway.
Harsin completed 20 of 35 passes, without an interception, for 273 yards, including 12 receptions by Goble for 172 yards.
The Tigers, barring the biggest upset in the history of Nebraska high school sports, will improve to 8-1 Friday when 1-7 Conestoga comes to Jug Brown Stadium.
The first round of the Class C-1 Playoffs is on Halloween. Falls City is currently right in the middle of the presumed 16-team field. The Tigers’ chances of opening on the road are only slightly better than its odds of starting at home.