Lincoln Northeast Coach Bump Christensen calls high school football “a game of momentum, momentum during games and momentum between games.”
Right now, it’s on the side of the Rockets. Northeast has put a season-opening 37-0 loss to ninth-ranked Lincoln Southeast in the rear-view mirror. The Rockets bounced back for a hard-fought 23-21 win over Lincoln North Star in Week 2 before racing past Omaha Benson 29-14 last Thursday to move to 2-1 going into Friday’s game at No. 7 Kearney.
With a team that brought back just two starters on offense and two on defense from a 2-7 squad a year ago, confidence and experience are key.
“The athleticism is there, we just need to keep getting better mentally and cut down the mistakes that can really hurt young teams,” said Christensen, who has a number of sophomores and juniors in key positions this season.
“If we can put it all together, we can be a good football team.”
Junior safety Quinn Keller, the Rockets’ leading tackler with 24 in three games, says the difference between last season and now is stark.
“The mood has changed a lot around here,” said Keller, who also has a fumble recovery and an interception this season. “We were 1-2 at this point last year, and it wasn’t all that upbeat. We seem to have a lot more fight and spirit this season.”
Christensen discovered in the last two weeks that he has two quarterbacks who can lead the team to victory. Against North Star, talented 6-foot-3 sophomore starter Shadon Shannon completed 15 of 23 passes for 173 yards and two touchdowns.
Shannon was held out for disciplinary reasons against Benson, and junior Hahler Groth picked up the slack by throwing for 270 yards and a pair of TDs while also rushing for 39 yards.
“It’s nice to have two quarterbacks who have proven in game situations they can get the job done,” Christensen said. “They’ve both made significant improvement since the first week and are doing some good things for us. Shadon’s passing ability has really come along, and now we’re trying to find ways to utilize his ability to run in the open field.”
Northeast’s offensive philosophy in recent seasons has been a no-huddle, hurry-up approach which produced 84 plays from scrimmage against Benson. But the reliance on the passing game, however, may not be as critical with the addition of junior running back Bryce Johnson, a transfer from Midland, Texas.
Johnson rushed for 131 yards and a pair of TDs last week against Benson, and is gradually becoming a critical piece of the offense.
“Bryce moved here in late July and he’s done a great job of learning the offense in a short amount of time,” Christensen said. “He’s a slithery runner who knows how to find holes and accelerate quickly through them. Coming from Texas, the speed of the game in Class A hasn’t been an issue at all for him.”
Both of the Rockets’ leading receivers — Miguel Godinez (eight catches, 157 yards) and Jakobi Rose (12-118) — are juniors as well.
Seniors have made their presence known defensively for the Rockets. Cole Lundy, a 6-1, 230-pound defensive tackle, has five tackles for a loss among his 18 total stops. He also blocked a quick kick attempt in the Benson game, which led to a touchdown.
Linebacker Caleb Kyes has 15 tackles, including three behind the line of scrimmage and one for a safety that proved to be the winning points in the North Star game. Ayden Koss-Marshall, a 6-foot, 200-pound linebacker, was Northeast’s leading tackler a year ago, but he missed the North Star game because of a concussion. He returned last week against Benson.
“All the young guys on this team have grown up very quickly,” Koss-Marshall said. “Guys are executing better and playing stronger than a year ago. Our team motto this year is ‘Shock the State.’ That’s what we’re hoping to do Friday night.”