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November 10, 2012

Saturday Morning Quarterback

Maybe they should call him Calvin Quick. Or Calvin Tough. Or Calvin Elusive. Actually, Calvin Elusive sort of sounds like a cartoon super hero.

Which Calvin Strong has basically become.

The Omaha North sophomore running back put on quite a display on Friday night, ripping his way through the guts of a worn out Creighton Prep defense, rushing for 235 yards and scoring three touchdowns.



Calvin Elusive's big night helped lift the Vikings to a 38-17 win over Creighton Prep in Friday night's Class A semifinal game played at Burke Stadium, sealing the program's first-ever trip to a state playoff final.

In the process Omaha North beat Prep for the first time since 1967, according to the Omaha World-Herald, mixing in a tremendous defensive performance to go with its brilliant offensive showing. Prep's offense scored only one touchdown; the other came on a 79-yard interception return by Michael Emodi.

Omaha North's line consistently gave Strong room to work and with his burst and, dare I say, elusiveness, the Vikings went up and down the field all night. Senior QB Zach Martin lent balance to the Viking attack, passing for 146 yards and two touchdowns, both to Connor Phillips, including an 80-yard strike for North's first score.

Like great (potential) champions do, North answered when Prep came knocking. Down just 24-17, the Jays pieced together a solid drive to open the second half but missed a field goal attempt and North responded with an 80-yard touchdown drive, with Calvin Elusive doing most of the damage, to put the game on ice.

What a great win for Omaha North, head coach Larry Martin - who gets to coach his son in a state final - and his staff and the whole Omaha North community. The Vikings have the look of a team that won't be stopped.

* If you went to your car with 1:35 left in the Millard North-Millard South semifinal, then it better to have been to listen to the game on the radio.

Otherwise you'd have completely missed one of the great finishes to such a high-profile playoff game in state history.

The game tied at 28-28, Millard North suddenly turned into Air Petito, cashing in a clutch 25-yard pass from Isaac Aakre to Matt Evans on fourth down to keep a live a drive that led to an Aakre TD run of 14 yards...with 1:35 left on the clock. Game, set, match, Millard North.

Not so fast. When you play football in the back yard you can always bet there will be a statue of liberty play but not in a big-time playoff game. Not with 1:35ish to go on the clock. Not with a state final berth on the line.

Well, Millard South ran one. And it worked like a charm.

After the ensuing kickoff Millard South got the ball to Quentin Williams on one of the great playground plays of all time and he raced 65 yards past a bewildered Millard North defense for the tying touchdown.

Millard North got the ball back and - more Air Petito - completed a couple of key passes to set up a final field goal attempt with 19 seconds left in regulation.

And, suddenly, it's good to be Andy Bayne. One of the most prolific kickers in the state, Bayne banged home a 39-yard field goal to give the Mustangs their first state final berth since way back in 2010.

Ahem.

This makes seven state finals for the Mustangs since 2002. As hairy as this win was, they aren't out of the woods just yet, as Omaha North has The Look of a Champion. And the Vikings won't be cowed by Millard North's awesomeness; they played the Mustangs to within 37-31 on the final night of the regular season.


* You just wonder, when Jacob Johnson woke up this morning if he thought it had all be a dream.

Or could it be real, that's he's suddenly become the biggest football hero in the program's history, after returning a squib kick 74 yards for the winning touchdown against Elkhorn in Friday night's Class B semifinal, boosting the Cougars to just their second-ever state final, and first in 29 years.

And doing so with just 27 seconds left in regulation. Jacob, it really happened - you can't make this stuff up. Gros wins, Gross wins, Gross wins, 14-7!

Elkhorn, the defending champion, did its part to lend drama to what proved to be the winning play, scoring a tying touchdown, precious points in a defensive struggle that was tied 0-0 at halftime. (A big enough game, too, to warrant the attendance of Mr. Husker Football, Sean Callahan, an Omaha Gross graduate and publisher of Rivals.com's Huskeronline.)

Elkhorn head coach Mark Wortman chose to squib the ensuring kickoff in large part out of respect for the Gross return game; the Cougars' Nate Zimmerer had returned a kick for a touchdown in the team's regular season meeting. As they say, the best laid plans...

Johnson scooped up the ball and off he went, running right into a prominent place in Gross football history, assuring his name will by mythic within Cougar football circles for generations to come. (You think that sounds over the top until you hear a bunch of teammates talk, say, at their 40-year reunion, when some Week 3 win against some sad sack opponent suddenly is made to sound like a Super Bowl victory. I'm just sayin', the kid's made a lifetime name for himself...)

Elkhorn is a great champion and did what it could but Gross delivered yet another sterling defensive performance then road the shoulders of Gross High's new football hero, Jacob Johnson, to a berth at Memorial Stadium.

* Speaking of great champions who did all they could, say good-bye to Aurora.

The Huskies, who shook off a late-season disaster v. Grand Island Northwest to reach another Class B semifinal, simply ran out of gas, and healthy players, in losing to Norris, 52-13, Friday night at Aurora.

To be honest, if Aurora did have the three starters injured last week in their line-up it still probably wouldn't have mattered. Norris pounded Gretna last week and pounded Aurora last night, and that's a pretty good set of resume builders for a program that will play in its second-ever state final, the first coming in 1979.



Strong and physical, Norris is at the height of its football powers just about now, ready to cap off a season for the ages. Friday night's was a classic Norris win, as the Titans pounded away at Aurora, running all-state halfback James Kruger into the teeth of Huskies defense 33 times, which netted 227 yards and four touchdowns.

That Norris scored the final six touchdowns of the game, turning it into a rout, is further proof of the Titans' ability to wear out an opponent, just as they did last week against Gretna.

Omaha North in a state final; Omaha Gross in a state final; Norris in a state final. I'm tellin' ya, this has turned out to be my favorite postseason of all time...


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