‘Little things’ lead to Elkhorn win over Panthers
ELKHORN — A number of things played a part in Elkhorn’s 13-10 win over Norfolk here Friday night.
But consistent offensive play by either team was not necessarily among those things.
“There were a lot of little things that were the difference tonight,” Elkhorn coach Mark Wortman said. “Both teams played good defense; we were able to slow them down a little bit, and they shut us down — we didn’t move the ball the second half.”
“We improved; our defense got better this week,” he said. “We thought it was kind of porous last week. We made a couple of plays, but overall, our defense got better, and that was the key.”
The Antlers’ defense — geared primarily to hinder Norfolk’s passing game — limited the Panthers to just 40 rushing yards in the first half and, a net production of 59 yards on the ground in the second half, which included a 39-yard run.
Meanwhile, Norfolk completed 12 of 25 passes in the contest, accumulating 133 yards but connected on just two of 10 tries in the second half and also saw Elkhorn defenders Bryson Cash and Mitch Kahre pick off two passes.
Kahre’s interception, with just under 19 seconds remaining in the half, set up the Antlers’ go-ahead touchdown six seconds later when quarterback Isaac Hawkins hit Aiden Young in stride running up the left sideline for a 35-yard score.
“We’re very disappointed to lose a game like that. I thought we had some opportunities, but offensively we were kind of stymied,” Panthers coach Tom Olson said. “The second half we didn’t throw the ball well, we didn’t run the ball well, we didn’t block well, and there were good plays where we’d have a penalty bring it back. In a game like this those are things that haunt you. We had our opportunities the second half, and we just did not do it.”
Despite having its own offensive struggles against Norfolk’s stunting defense — including lost yardage on 13 of 39 plays that were categorized as running plays and just 5-of-13 success throwing the ball — Elkhorn scored twice on big plays, both during the first half for a 13-7 lead at intermission.
In the first period, Aiden Young broke loose for a 64-yard touchdown run, and Hawkins connection with Young for the 35-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter answered Austin Bruzek’s game-tying 13-yard touchdown run for Norfolk with five-and-a-half minutes remaining.
While Norfolk’s ground attack centered around Bruzek, who rushed 17 times for 101 yards — including the 13-yard touchdown and a 39 scamper in the second half that took the ball inside Elkhorn’s five-yard line and resulted in a 22-yard Connor Clayton field goal — the Antlers featured four running backs who totaled 175 yards on a combined 33 attempts.
“We have a lot of good running backs, but they got tired tonight,” Wortman said. “We’ve got to get better; we didn’t move the ball very well.”
Another area that affected Norfolk were a pair of low snaps. After back-to-back tackles for loss by 290-pound senior lineman Conner Cowling forced a fourth-quarter Elkhorn punt, a low snap eluded Panthers’ quarterback Brandon Hart and resulted in a 17-yard loss. Two plays later another low snap to punter Jaydon Green resulted in a hurried 26-yard punt that allowed Elkhorn to maintain possession in Norfolk territory while taking more critical time off the clock.
“I thought Jaydon did alright until his last two punts; it was one of those things that gets you at a time when you don’t need it,” Olson said. “Going into the wind he kind of shanked a couple, and that hurt us, but he’s an excellent punter — one of the best we’ve had in a long time — and takes a lot of pride in what he does, so he was disappointed in his last couple punts.”
“There were so many issues with our offense, and even our defense with a couple of plays,” he said. “I think our defense played pretty well, but offensively we really struggled.”
Norfolk (1-1) 0 7 3 0 — 10
Elkhorn (1-1) 7 6 0 0 — 13
E: Aiden Young 64 run (Brandon Grooters kick), 1:07.
N: Austin Bruzek 13 run (Connor Clayton kick), 5:28.
E: Young 35 pass from Isaac Hawkins (kick failed), :12
N: Clayton 22 field goal, 2:57.