Nemaha Central threw up a brick wall on defense Saturday afternoon at Salina Stadium and shut out Norton 19-0 to win the Class 2A state football championship.
The Thunder, who finished 11-2, so controlled play from start to finish that Norton managed only 67 yards of total offense — four first downs and four of their second half possessions lasted less than a minute and 30 seconds.
Add to that five pass interceptions — three more than Norton completed, and it was just a matter of time before the Thunder offense would provide the points needed to win the crown.
“The defense was awesome,” said Warren Seitz, Nemaha Central’s coach. “We’ve really played well on the defensive side the last three or four weeks — the coaches put together a good scheme (for today) and we played with a lot of heart.
“When you shut down the run (38 yards on 30 attempts) and you make a team one-dimensional, then your DBs can really hone-in on getting back in coverage and making plays back there.”
Not only was the secondary honed-in, they came up with four of the five picks Bluejay passers threw. The fifth went to senior tackle Easton Emmons when he snatched a short throwback from Kade Melvin with 4:40 left to ice the victory cake for the Thunder.
“We watched a lot of film on them,” Emmons said, “and it felt pretty good (the interception) but I’ve got to give a lot of credit to (assistant) coach (Cory) Bass because he showed me that play on film so I was looking for it.
“I didn’t expect to be so dominant that we’d shut them out – I figured it would be a close game, but I’ll take it,” he said.
For most of the first half, chances to score for both teams went by the wayside until a tipped Norton punt went only 5 yards, giving Nemaha Central the ball at their own 38, 2:22 ahead of intermission.
Dylan Schultejans went to the air on first down but overthrew a wide-open Tyler Gerety at the Norton 30.
Coming right back with the same play Gerety was open again and this time they connected for a 31-yard gain to the Bluejays 31. Next play, Schultejans went over the middle, again to Gerety and once he caught the ball at the 10, he broke one tackle and carried a second defender into the end zone for the first score of the game. Bryce Uphaus kicked the PAT with 1:45 showing on the clock.
“They had five on the line and stacked seven in the box,” said Schultejans, “so we knew we could get outside and throw on them pretty good. I just knew that they were going to try to bring pressure, so we knew that someone was going to be open – I just found the right one.”
Once the second half got underway, the Thunder game plan changed and Nemaha Central was going to feed Norton a steady diet of tailback Gavin Duryea.
“Duryea didn’t have a good game, so we wanted to get him going,” Schultejans said. “That would make them respect the pass and play action, so we wanted to control the ball and run clock.”
After rushing for only 8 first-half yards on seven carries, Duryea got the ball 24 times in the second for 140 yards and one touchdown.
The Thunder ended with 106 rushing yards in the final period and totaled 351 yards in offense for the game.
“Their defense was good,” said Norton coach Lucas Melvin, whose team finished 9-4. “We didn’t execute quite like, but that’s because of them and credit to them today – they beat us, and they deserved it.”