Broncos take advantage of Oakland-Craig mistakes in win
UTICA — In a battle of unbeaten teams, Centennial took advantage of Oakland-Craig mistakes to earn a return ticket to the Class C2 football championship game with a convincing 35-14 win here Friday night.
“We’re very excited and blessed; I found out last year as a coach playing in a state finals game for the first time just what it takes to get there and how so many things have to bounce your way,” Centennial coach Evan Klanecky said. “Fortunately, for these kids that’s worked again this year, so we’ll try to finish it off this year.”
But it won’t be easy.
The Broncos, who lost last year to Yutan in the state championship game, will face Norfolk Catholic — a 50-28 winner Friday over No. 2-seed Sutton — in the Class C2 championship game to be played on Tuesday, Nov. 20, at 10:15 a.m. at UNL’s Memorial Stadium.
It was an Oakland-Craig mistake early in the game that first gave Centennial an opening.
After forcing the Broncos into a three-and-out punt on their opening possession, Oakland-Craig quickly gained a first down with two running plays. But a fumble on the third play by running back Robby Mayberry turned into a 17-play, 50-yard Centennial touchdown drive, capped by quarterback Wyatt Ehlers’ 15-yard run.
Unfortunately for Oakland-Craig, there would be more mistakes to come — and a lot more plays by Ehlers.
The Knights did respond with a 10-play drive that covered 47 yards and tied the score on a one-yard touchdown run by Mayberry midway through the second period.
On Centennial’s ensuing possession, after Sid Farley’s 27-yard gain, three critical plays — a pass interference call on the Knights, a tipped pass that ended up in the hands of Broncos receiver Max Tomes and a 21-yard run by Ehlers — led to Farley’s touchdown run and a 14-7 lead.
Ehlers, a senior and four-year starter for the Broncos, added a 36-yard scoring toss to Tomes for a 21-7 lead with 37 seconds remaining in the first half.
During that first half, Ehlers completed 10-of-13 passes for 61 yards, including the 36-yarder to Tomes, complementing a running game that produced 131 yards on 20 carries. Ehlers accounted for 80 of those on 12 tries.
“That was our plan coming in; we had some match-ups we liked, throwing the ball to set up our run,” Klanecky said. “We’re very balanced offensively. I thought we were pretty consistent with both.”
In the second half, an interception and 23-yard return by the Knights’ Garrison Dodge helped Oakland-Craig march 56 yards for a touchdown to get back in the game, trailing 21-14 with most of the fourth quarter remaining.
“We said at halftime that we’re down 14, but we felt like we moved the ball well, we just kind of shot ourselves in the foot a couple times where we’d have a turnover or a missed blocking assignment where we got negative yards,” Oakland-Craig coach Joe Anderson said. “Our goal was to come out the second half, put together a good drive and go down and score. We were able to do that.”
But that’s when several more plays by Ehlers determined the game’s outcome — first by guiding the Broncos on a scoring drive covering 68 yards. He contributed 27 rushing yards and completed two passes during that drive to help Centennial return its lead to two touchdowns, at 28-14.
Less than a minute later Ehlers picked off a pass from Oakland-Craig quarterback Jared Mulder to end a Knights’ possession. Finally, with 2:48 remaining, he scooped up an Oakland-Craig fumble and scampered 40 yards for a touchdown that completed Centennial’s 35-14 win.
“He does a lot for us, including a ton of pre-snap stuff with a very high football IQ,” Klanecky said. “He’s a really tough runner; we haven’t run him much during the regular season, so a lot of our stuff is based on zone reads where we’re actually starting to read things, so we’re kind of turning him loose. He’s a playmaker.”
Ehlers finished as the game’s leading rusher, totaling 153 yards on 19 carries, and completed 14-of-18 passes for 118 yards and two scores.
“They’ve got really good wide receivers out there, and you’ve got to respect those guys, so if you overplay the run, they just go over the top,” Anderson said. “They’re a well-coached team that’s really tough to stop. Ehlers is an all-around good football player. We came up a little bit short, but I’m super proud of what our guys accomplished this year.”
Robby Mayberry gained 96 yards on 24 carries for Oakland-Craig, which finishes its season at 11-1. Jefferson McNeill added 10 rushes for 65 yards.
The 12-0 and No. 1-ranked Broncos are taking advantage of a senior class of 19 players who have accumulated plenty of experience over the past few years.
“This group of seniors was 5-4 as freshmen, narrowly missing the playoffs; went 9-0 regular season as sophomores, and got beat round one; and went 12-1 last year as juniors; so this is our third undefeated regular season for this group of seniors,” Klanecky said. “So this is a tremendous group of seniors.”
Class C2 semifinal
Oakland-Craig (11-1) 0 7 0 7 — 14
Centennial (12-0) 7 14 0 14 — 35
CEN: Wyatt Ehlers 15 run (Will Saunders kick), 1:56.
O-C: Robby Mayberry 1 run (Jack Pille kick), 5:43.
CEN: Sid Farley 3 run (Saunders kick), 4:04.
CEN: Max Tomes 36 pass from Ehlers ( Saunders kick), :37.
O-C: Jefferson McNeill 8 run (Pille kick), 11:42.
CEN: Caleb Horne 26 pass from Ehlers (Saunders kick), 8:10.
CEN: Ehlers 40 fumble return (Saunders kick), 2:48.