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If special teams were an investment for the Class A No. 7 Lincoln Southeast football team, the Knights earned some outstanding returns Friday at Seacrest Field.

Brehan Lambert returned the opening kickoff of the second half 93 yards for a touchdown to put Southeast ahead to stay as the Knights overcame five turnovers to claim a 28-14 victory over Lincoln Northeast to bring a 6-3 record into next week’s state playoffs.

The Knights had 98 yards in punt returns in the first half, coming close to breaking several for scores. Kickoff returns don’t figure into official return yards, but interceptions do, and an 82-yarder for a TD early in the fourth quarter by 6-foot-1, 290-pound nose guard Tramar Byron swelled that figure to 209 yards.

“Special teams were big for us tonight,” said Southeast coach Ryan Gottula, whose team was without junior standout defensive back/running back Isaac Gifford for a second straight game because of a knee injury.

“That kickoff return by Brehan really kick-started us. We needed someone to make a play there because we struggled offensively the first half.”

Southeast had four turnovers in the first half, which ended in a 7-7 draw. The first one was a fumble on the center-quarterback exchange on the first offensive snap for the Knights, which Nick Halleen recovered, giving the Rockets the ball at the Southeast 26. Two plays later, Halleen scored on an 18-yard run.

Halleen, a junior running back, finished with 114 yards on 27 carries and later added a 3-yard scoring run to finish the scoring with 6:14 remaining in the game.

The Knights responded on their next possession, going 65 yards in five plays with Jaden Davis scoring on a 32-yard run to tie it at 7-7 with 8:19 left in the first quarter. With Gifford sidelined, Davis became the workhorse as the senior pounded out 211 yards on 35 carries.

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Midway through the second quarter, the Rockets’ Thomas Brennan recovered a Southeast fumble to stop the Knights at the NE 20. Later, Tobin Vocasek intercepted a pass after Southeast got as close as the Northeast 21 and Jesston Howard picked off a pass in the end zone with four seconds left in the half.

After the Lambert kickoff return and score, Southeast scored on its next possession, going 61 yards in 12 plays with quarterback Jampe’ Gergen capping it with a 1-yard sneak to make it 20-7 with 6:50 left in the third quarter.

Northeast (5-4) was threatening early in the final period when Rocket quarterback Shadon Shannon was hit as he was throwing and the ball popped into Byron’s hands, who then took it to the house to make it 28-7.

“Tramar (Byron) is a great football player,” said Gottula, who had Super-Stater Bryson Williams (now a freshman at Wisconsin) on the defensive front last year. “He gives our offense fits in practice and I thought he disrupted a lot of what Northeast wanted to do today.”

Northeast coach Shane Zimmerman felt his Rockets matched up physically with the Knights, but the kickoff return by Lambert and interception return by Byron “just killed us,” he said.

“I thought our guys did a great job defensively of getting turnovers and stiffening up when they got deep,” Zimmerman added. “Southeast did enough to win, but I thought we did a lot of good things, too.”

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Reach the writer at 402-473-7437 or rpowell@journalstar.com. On Twitter @ronpowell_ljs.

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Sports reporter

Ron Powell is a longtime prep writer for the Journal Star. He covers high school football, boys basketball and track as well as state college football and Husker and professional tennis.

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