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Austin Schultz

Norris' Austin Schultz tries to break free from a Beatrice tackler during the Titans' win Friday.

Austin Schultz and Brody Zabel have nicknames for the Norris offensive line.

Schultz, who has rushed for 1,129 yards and 14 touchdowns, and Zabel, who has 1,015 yards and 10 more scores, know they prosper at the will and whim of the Titan offensive line.

“I call them the ‘Hogmollies,’ from something I heard Brent Musberger say on a college game,” said Schultz. Zabel, the senior fullback, prefers “Three-quarters ton of fun.”

“Those guys are the biggest, loudest, jolliest group of guys you’ve ever seen,” he said.

So every play starts with a lot of confidence for both Zabel and Schultz. Even with Class B No. 6-ranked Elkhorn (7-2) hosting No. 9 Norris (7-2) Friday at 4 p.m. in the first round of the playoffs, the Titans are counting on taking the ground game.

Consider, every offensive play starts with the blocking of Gus Woeppel (6-foot-3, 335 pounds) at center, Erik Fisbeck (6-3, 245) and Keegan Schuchart (6-2, 230) at guards, and Jack Carnie (6-4, 260) and Nick Gray (6-2, 235) at tackles. Add Bryce Stai and Mike Anderson at tight ends, and you get the idea Norris will run almost 90 percent of the time.

“We’ve got some pass plays, and I think I even scored on a pass,” said Schultz, who also doubles as the team punter. “But it makes so much sense for me to run behind our fullback (Zabel) and that line. I honestly feel like they can make it so we get 5 yards a carry.”

Schultz, a junior, moved into the tailback spot early in the 2015 season. “Austin just puts a hand on my back and once he gets by the line, it seems like nobody can catch him,” said Zabel.

Zabel, who made the move to fullback this year, battled his way through a season of wrestling improve his agility and strength.

“We’ve got some great line coaches, too,” said Norris head coach Jim Jacobsen.

Former successful high school coaches in their own right, Jack Guggenmos and John Farrand coach the offensive line, along with former Husker All-American and longtime NFL lineman Brendan Stai.

“It’s no surprise we can grind it out and get some yards,” Jacobsen said. “I think we have the biggest line around and we have the athletes in Austin and Brody to take advantage of that.”

Schultz is a standout baseball and basketball player, and Zabel is a solid wrestler and used to play good basketball, Jacobsen added.

The Titans also have a sharp mental edge, Zabel said.

“We were behind Beatrice last week and it was like we looked in the mirror and said, 'We want to win the district championship and win some more,'” he said.

Zabel recovered a Beatrice fumble late in the game, then scored on a 41-yard run to help Norris to a 26-22 victory.

Now, perennial Class B power Elkhorn stands in the way.

“Elkhorn is always disciplined and always good and there’s no reason to think we’ll see anything less from them in our game,” Jacobsen said. “But Mark Wortman has been the coach there for (37) years and the kids know the program, know how to play with discipline, and we can have any mistakes that come from a lack of discipline.”

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Reach the writer at 402-473-7313 or khambleton@journalstar.com. On Twitter @PanchoHam

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Ken grew up in Chicago and is a Doane College grad. His Mr. Sportsknowitall column appears Sundays, and he covers a variety of beats.

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