After some technical difficulties we are back with you at the state football finals in Lincoln. While technology can be a wonderful thing, it can also be frustrating, as has been proven to me over the past, oh, 12 hours or so.
While I am a little late I still have some things to say about last night's thrilling Class A final, one won pass-happy Millard North, 17-14. Actually, it's more happy-to-pass Millard North, which rallied late with an improbable drive which featured the passing of perhaps the greatest option quarterback our high school game has seen, Millard North senior Isaac Aakre.
Before we get to that give credit to Omaha North, a first-time finalist which was not overwhelmed by the big stage, but in fact held a fourth-quarter lead before a wild exchange of touchdowns which resulted in the Millard North win. Like most Americans, I have a soft spot for the underdog and it was pretty crushing to see Omaha North late, take a lead, only to have Millard North score to take a lead, then have Omaha North miss a 32-yard field goal which could have sent the game into overtime.
Head coach Larry Martin and is staff deserve a ton of credit for elevating the Vikings to elite status among Class A football programs. There is nothing fluky about the Vikings; they stood toe-to-toe with big, bad Millard North, acquitting themselves a worthy state finalists. They'd have been worthy state champs, too, if not for the pinkie dust sprinkled on the game's final minutes by Aakre.
Over the years Millard North has produced a number of Division I football players who were quarterbacks for the Mustangs, foremost among them future Heisman Trophy winner Eric Crouch, but you'd have a hard time convincing any of them, Crouch included, was better in high school than is Aakre.
Stats are important, and Aakre has plenty of them, but more than anything last night's title game performance proved he's a star, a player who isn't afraid of the big stage and can perform at an elite level even under the most difficult of circumstances.
To borrow a phrase, the kid's a stud.
And not just on the field. He's a committed student, a young man of great religious faith and a favorite among his teammates. And a two-time state champion. Life at 18 doesn't get much better than that.
* Most people I spoke with prior to this morning's Class C-2 final between Aquinas and Sutton, a pair of unbeaten teams, basically told me they'd be watching the game with their hands over their eyes. Collectively, they were waiting for Sutton to get smoked.
Didn't happen. Sutton didn't win, Aquinas won its second straight state title by a score of 35-20 but not before trading haymakers in a good, old-fashioned slugfest.
Through the first four finals his has been by far the most consistently entertaining game. Aquinas took the early lead, natch, but Sutton countered with two straight touchdowns of its own, one a touchdown run by junior all-state candidate Cole Wiseman, the other a Wiseman pass. At that point in the game, mid-second quarter, it was the Mustangs who were the more physical team, taking the action to the defending champs.
But as defending champs do, Aquinas countered with some power running of its own, scoring three straight touchdowns to take a 28-14 lead. Sutton would score again to make it interesting but Aquinas would finish things off, sending four different sets of offensive players into the game on its final possession.
Aquinas is a great champion. Nothing fancy, just power football and fast, physical defense. It's a classic high school football team, if you ask me, one mostly devoid of stars but loaded with very good players.
Having said that, most of you out there would make room for Landon Stouffer, Seth Hoffman and Austin Svoboda on your team, trust me.
Four down, two to go. The weather's been great, the games great fun, the daunting size of the new addition to Memorial Stadium's east stadium awesome. And you have a feeling these last two games have something special in store for all of us...