Centennial is the only 11-man high school football program in Nebraska to go 9-0 in the regular season in each of the past three years.
Coach Evan Klanecky says it’s an achievement that just happened along the way, not something that was part of some grand scheme.
“It’s hard to say it’s not our goal, but we know with the schedule we play, it’s very difficult to do so we never talk about anything beyond our next game,” Klanecky said. “It’s not our ultimate goal, our ultimate goal is playing in Memorial Stadium for a state championship.
“I admire these guys for their attitude of never looking too far ahead and just focusing on getting better every day in practice and on the next game on the schedule.”
The Class C-2 No. 2 Broncos are 30-2 over the past three seasons. They went 9-0 in 2016 only to lose in the first round of the playoffs to Yutan, a team they had beaten in the regular season. Centennial reached the C-2 state championship game last season before falling to Yutan again.
“Our seniors found out as sophomores that it’s cool to go 9-0, but it’s not cool to lose first round,” said Klanecky, whose Broncos host North Platte St. Patrick’s (6-3) in the opening round Friday. “These guys will take nothing for granted this week.”
The middle part of the schedule was as challenging as any C-2 team in the state has faced this season. The Broncos beat five straight opponents that ended up in the 16-team playoff field — Battle Creek (21-0), No. 6 Sutton (41-22), No. 5 Aquinas (28-21), North Bend Central (47-14) and No. 10 Shelby-Rising City (28-15).
Centennial trailed Aquinas by seven points with three minutes left in the game before rallying to win.
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“That’s the kind of game we needed at that point of the season, a test to see how we would respond in a close game,” Klanecky said.
In the process of watching his team mature over the past three seasons, Klanecky has seen his offense evolved from strictly a spread passing attack to a more balanced approach. Centennial now takes advantage of both senior all-state quarterback Wyatt Ehlers and all-state senior receiver Jackson Hirschfeld as well as an experienced, physical offensive line that allows the Broncos to attack teams between the tackles.
The 6-foot, 185-pound Ehlers has thrown for 1,764 yards (a 66 percent completion percentage) and 27 touchdowns to raise his three-year totals to 5,705 yards and 69 scores. He’s scored six rushing TDs this season to go with a team-high 478 yards, putting his three-year rushing at 1,357 yards and 22 TDs.
“We’ve been very conservative with him running the ball in the regular season,” Klanecky said. “We’ll cut him loose in the playoffs and that will open up a new dynamic for us offensively.”
The 6-foot Hirschfeld, who is also an all-state basketball player, has hauled in 66 catches for 937 yards and 13 TDs this season. He’s at 179 receptions for 2,482 yards and 29 TDs in his career.
Hirschfeld has also been a factor defensively with 45 tackles, two interceptions and a fumble recovery as a cornerback.
Line play upfront both offensively and defensively has been key for the Broncos, a group led by 6-4, 220-pound senior all-state left tackle/defensive lineman Caleb Cast, who has a team-high 70 tackles. Cast will have reconstructive knee surgery after the season to repair and replace bone and cartilage that has died in his right knee area from previous injuries, but the condition has not slowed him down at all this fall.
The senior group of Kalten Bauers (6-0, 217, C), Quinn Butzke (6-2, 270, LG), Cole Gocke (6-4, 220, RG) and Garrett Fehlhafer (6-4, 200, RT) round out the interior of the line.