By Tom Behmer,
Norfolk Daily News
Watching the Norfolk Catholic defensive front on film led four-year Falls City Coach Darin Fritz to believe the Knights would make moving the ball difficult.
Turns out, it was nearly impossible as Norfolk Catholic’s top unit limited the Tigers to 20 yards of offense in the first half of a 42-0 win in the first round of the Class C1 playoffs at Veterans Memorial Park.
“We were right, they’re good. They’re really good,” Fritz said. “We played (two-time defending runner-up) Ashland-Greenwood earlier in the season and got beat, but we could run against them. These guys, front to back, they’re just pretty darn good.”
Norfolk Catholic improved to a perfect 10-0 on the season and is the pick to take the school’s 10th state championship later this month. The Knights Friday host 8-2 Bishop Neumann, a team they defeated 30-23 Sept. 11 in what turned out to be their most difficult game of the year. The program is competing in the playoffs for the 27thconsecutive year, dating back to 1987, and has advanced to the state finals a tremendous 15 times. FCHS qualified for the fourth straight year — all obviously under Fritz — and ninth time in school history.
The Knights didn’t surrender as much as a first down until the 3:22 mark of the first half while stopping Falls City at or behind the line of scrimmage on 13 of its first 20 plays. Aaron Hoff had a hand in on five stops behind the line of scrimmage, Paul Uhlir made four stops for losses and Drew Leise was in on three negative plays as the Knights forced the Tigers to punt 11 times.
Already ahead 35-0 in the second quarter, a blocked punt by Uhlir set up a 6-yard touchdown run by Dylan Kautz that gave Norfolk Catholic a 42-0 halftime lead.
“I thought we really played good defense the entire game. Our front eight didn’t give anything up. They got maybe one first down the entire first half, so I don’t think we can play any better on that side of the ball,” NC coach Jeff Bellar said.
FCHS junior Zayne Heckenlively was held to a season-low 47 yards on 22 carries, but needed just 44 yards to break the school’s single-season rushing record, set in 1990 by Cameron McNabb. Heckenlively turned in the most prolific season carrying the leather, gaining nearly nine yards per rush for a total of 1,501 yards in 2015. He is the sixth Tiger to eclipse 1,000 yards in a season, joining McNabb (1,497), Cord Huettner (1,481), Dan Werner (1,415), Dakota Schulenberg (1,339) and Bruce Smith (1,034) . He found the end zone 20 times – two more than all the other Tiger ballcarriers combined, and also took three punts back to the house. On the other side of the ball, Heckenlively led the Tiger defense with 69 total tackles and 9.5 stops for 35 yards in losses.
There weren’t many offensive highlights, though, for Heckenlively or anybody else Friday in Norfolk.
On the game’s second play, senior David Engelhaupt side-stepped a defender at the line of scrimmage and went untouched on a 69-yard TD run to put the Knights ahead 7-0. With 19 seconds left in the quarter, Kautz went 84 yards on a toss play to extend the lead to 13-0.
The bookend touchdowns were separated by a pair of Knight turnovers — a fumbled punt return and a Trent Pentecost interception that halted a Norfolk Catholic drive at the Tiger 10-yard line. Both Jeremy Waggoner and Colton Reiss recovered Knight fumbles.
“We want to take care of the football. I think we were negative two in turnovers, and we don’t want that,” Bellar said. “We’ve just got to take care of those little things.”
With the second and third units for Norfolk Catholic maintaining the shutout, FCHS finished with 87 yards of total offense — all on the ground.
“Our game plan was to possess the ball as much as we could and shorten the game. We thought if we could do that, then maybe we could be in the game. I thought for the first quarter, we did a pretty decent job,” Fritz said. “You definitely learn something from playing the best in the state, and we feel Norfolk Catholic is the best in C1 right now.
“We’ve got a ways to go. We’ve got the majority of our kids back next year, and we want to build a program and take the next step.”
Norfolk Catholic, which took that step more than three decades ago, accumulated 340 of its 414 total yards before halftime. Engelhapt and Kautz both finished above 100 yards rushing, with Engelhaupt running for 117 yards and three TDs on eight carries and Kautz adding 106 yards and two scores on seven carries.
A 23-yard pass from Myles Vrbka to Michael Stinson with 7:51 left in the first half accounted for the Knights’ other score. Vrbka completed six of his nine throws for 96 yards.
Senior Bradly Rose recorded one tackles for a three-yard loss and Rudy Vrtiska (six solo, two assists), and Pentecost and Jeremy Waggoner (each four solo stops, three assists) were defensive leaders for the Tigers. Both Rose twins (Bryan and Bradly), Pentecost, Reiss, Waggoner, Charles Dawkins, Montana Mirelez, Cody Frederick, Martin Richbourg, Joost Tipke, Luke Gifford and Jeremy Robinson played their final game and graduate never having played on a losing team.