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October 30, 2013With all that's been going on this has sort of gotten away from me but I still have some things to say about last Thursday and Friday.
First of all, I have had few nights in my professional career more fun that last Thursday in Hershey. The football game featured two unbeaten teams , rivals Hershey and North Platte St. Pat's, but most of what was neat about the evening had nothing to do with football.
Two things first: 1. I am originally from Arnold, Nebr., home of the fighting Cardinals, and for much of my young life North Platte was The Place We Went When We Left Town. I actually lived in North Platte until I was 12 and it was also where my grandma and grandpa lived, so North Platte was, and is, like a second home to me. 2. I have since the late 1990s done a TV bit in North Platte for the mighty KNOP Channel 2, where we pick football games each week of the season. We try to have some fun with it, as you should with anything tied to a high school game.
That said, it was an electric setting at Hershey, with about 3,000 people in attendance. Both sidelines were packed, the gym had people listening to the game as it was streamed live - they even started parking cars at 5 p.m., two hours before kickoff. By the time the crowed had settled all the parking lots were full and cars were parked on both sides of the road leading to downtown.
This was a big game and it felt like it.
Lots of people, live local sports at 6 o'clock, local celebrities at every turn this was going to be a great night. And when they finally got around to playing football the game was great, too, with underdog Hershey - which passes the eyeball test - rising up to beat long-time nemesis St. Pat's, 25-14. It was a great win for my friend Ryan Smith, Hershey's head coach, especially coming at the expense of our common good friend Kevin Dodson, St. Pat's state championship coach.
I left Hershey feeling as good about the state of high school football in Nebraska as I have at any time in a long time. The people in Hershey, and the St. Pat's folks, too, were so kind to me and so supportive of their teams, it was the way it should be when we play one of our games. All of our games, really
• Last week I also took my wife, Penni, on the road with me. She stayed with my mom, Margaret Jensen, in Cozad on Thursday night while I went to Hershey (maybe she was afraid of retribution for me picking St. Pat's?) and the next day we left for the state cross country meet in Kearney. (In our car, not on foot.) Afterwards we continued on to Omaha, me being intent upon seeing the Millard North-Omaha North game, one which featured two great backs in Clay Fisher and Calvin Strong
We arrived in Omaha - 300 miles from Hershey - just before kickoff and I witnessed first-hand what revenge looks like. I'd been told "Omaha North's line is legit" and that was certainly proven true as the Vikings blew big holes in the Millard North defense. Strong took it from there, seemingly every carry either resulting in a touchdown or being one step away.
I left there thinking to myself, "so, that's what Johnny Rodgers looked like in high school "
Calvin is a great high school running back - the best I've seen in person since Danny Woodhead played at North Platte - and he's got a great offensive line to run behind, most of them juniors just like Calvin.
I left Omaha believing I just saw the Class A state championship team and it was wearing Blue and Gold. And I left thinking I saw Johnny Rodgers ghost.