ELKHORN — As they entered the halftime break, the mood on the Norris sideline had just turned slightly sour.
After turning the ball over on downs, Norris allowed Elkhorn North to march 50 yards in under a minute, and the Wolves kicked a field goal as time expired to make it a 14-10 game. But 45 minutes later, the first half may as well have never even happened.
The entire Norris sideline was all smiles when linebacker Creighton Henkel rumbled for a 32-yard touchdown on a fumble recovery, the Titans’ fourth touchdown of the third quarter. After taking a four-point lead into halftime, Class B No. 7 Norris dominated the entirety of the second half in a 47-16 win over No. 10 Elkhorn North on Thursday.
“We talked about playing assignment football at halftime, we weren’t doing that in the first half and that’s how they were scoring on us,” Norris head coach Ty Twarling said. “Once we did that and played with a little bit of passion and confidence, it just kind of took off for us.”
The key adjustment on defense was simply staying disciplined on each of Elkhorn North’s (0-2) motion runs and zone reads. Quarterback Easton Mains broke several big runs in the first half due to broken contains, including an 11-yard rushing score in the second quarter.
Apart from the Wolves’ second-quarter efforts, Norris (1-1) controlled the game from start to finish. Quarterback Cooper Hausmann connected with Blake Macklin for a 37-yard touchdown on the Titans’ opening drive, and Kale Consbruck returned a punt 55 yards for a touchdown that gave Norris a 14-0 lead before it had even run five plays.
However, Elkhorn North’s surge required a strong response from Norris, one that came quick and fast in the second half. Consbruck made his second highlight play of the evening when he acrobatically came down with a football that looked destined for the turf, and that catch ultimately gave way to a 1-yard rushing score from Barrett Jones.
“I knew I made the catch and I immediately looked at the ref and I was hoping he saw it too because there were a lot of guys around,” Consbruck said. “… It felt really good to get the momentum started again.”
After that, there was no way back in the game for Elkhorn North as the Titans began to put together an all-around stellar second half. Hausmann, who finished 12-for-18 passing with 225 yards and two touchdowns, led two more scoring drives in the third quarter, while Henkel’s fumble return started the party.
Norris’ defense came up with one more big play in the fourth quarter, a 45-yard pick six from Cooper Cerny. Ben Landgren led the Titans with seven tackles, and Norris kept a second-half shutout until Elkhorn North’s Christian Young broke a long touchdown run with the game already out of reach. Plus, three touchdowns from special teams and defense almost always makes for a winning formula.
“Anytime you can score on your special teams or your defense, it takes pressure off the offense,” Twarling said. “Those types of things are huge momentum (boosts) for any team.”
To an extent, the pressure is now off Norris with the Titans picking up their first win of the season. After a narrow loss to No. 4 Elkhorn last week, and with No. 2 Bennington on the schedule for next week, a loss to Elkhorn North could have put Norris in danger of an 0-3 start.
Instead, the Titans will have plenty of positives to take away from Thursday evening.
“They’re a great team, they came out and hit us in the mouth in the second quarter, and I’m glad our guys responded,” Twarling said. “To be able to respond like that is huge for our guys going forward.”
Recap a wild Week 1 with the Journal Star crew. Here's all of our high school football content from Friday
OK, Week 1 brought it. Our team was out around the city and area to uncover all of the stories that came out of Friday night. Check them out here.
A little bit of everything in this one: several critical plays, a decisive two-point attempt, a highlight reel catch and throw...
Heading to the locker room trailing 19-7, the Knights "needed a spark." So, they reached deeper into the playbook in a second-half rout.
Mike Kayl said he warned his team all week about "shooting ourselves in the foot." So much for that. But, more importantly, the Dragons are 1-0.
Elkhorn is missing a few key faces, but it stuck to the program's pillars of success — and it did something even last year's state title team didn't.
Fremont coach Lee Jennings said he wants to continue building interest in football among the community's youth. Maybe Friday night helped.
How's that for a debut? Cielocha had two touchdowns on offense, and picked off two passes as a defender to spark the Shamrock win.
Taking a trip around the Capital City to see how Lincoln teams fared on the gridiron Friday night.
Reach the writer at 402-473-7437 or at LMullin@journalstar.com. On Twitter @lmullin7