CREIGHTON — The Creighton football team had four gas-powered heaters on the sideline on a frigid evening at Bill Harder Memorial Field.
The way their offense has continued to stay hot, the second-ranked Bulldogs didn’t need them.
Creighton posted another big number on the scoreboard Monday on its way to a 72-26 win against fourth-ranked Exeter-Milligan/Friend in the Class D-1 state football semifinals.
The Bulldogs will need to pack the buss. They’re heading to Memorial Stadium.
“It took a lot of hard work,” Bulldog quarterback Brayden Zimmerer said. “We knew it was going to be cold, we knew we had to come and play hard and we just hit them harder. We smacked them right away and it paid off.”
The victory pushed Creighton (12-0) over a large hump that had tripped them in recent seasons. The Bulldogs had reached the state quarterfinal or semifinal rounds in five straight seasons, (2013-17) only to fall short.
“It’s always felt like we left on the field, a lot on the table,” said first-year head coach Zac Kliment, who had served as an assistant for the prior six seasons. “(We) never really achieved what we think we’re capable of.”
Creighton’s offense, which scored 82, 66, 76 and 72 points in the first four playoff rounds, was back at it Tuesday. The Bulldogs piled 476 yards, including 435 on the ground.
The 1-2 punch of cousins Brayden and Bryce Zimmerer proved to be too much for the EMF defense to handle. The two had a hand in eight touchdowns, and they combined for 367 rushing yards (217 by Bryce).
Brayden Zimmerer’s 33-yard touchdown pass to Thad Hazen came after an EMF fumble and it gave the Bulldogs a 22-0 second-quarter lead. After recovering a fumble on the ensuing EMF drive, Bryce Zimmerer broke loose for a 50-yard touchdown.
It was quickly 46-8 when Zimmerer busted loose for a 56-yard touchdown.
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Was Kliment surprised by how many points his team was able to post against a good EMF defense?
“I don’t want to say surprised because it’s something that we tell our boys — once we get the pedal down, we want to keep going,” he said. “We just got to look for the openings and a lot of things schematically. If we could find what was there, we were going to ride with it. Today, we found a few plays that were working successfully and we stuck with it.”
Temperatures during the game hovered in the teens, and the wind-chill readings were in the single digits. It made for a slick and frozen playing surface. Both teams had trouble holding onto the ball. EMF lost five fumbles and Creighton lost four.
EMF (11-1) lost three fumbles in the first half, and they were back-breakers. Bryce Zimmerer also intercepted a ball deep in EMF territory early in the third quarter.
“They’ve got a good team,” EMF coach Dean Filipi said. “They created a lot of that, but we didn’t help ourselves either on either side. It is what it is, they played very well and we wish them luck.”
Kliment said the difference this year for Creighton is better health. The Bulldogs had several players hurt during last year's run, including Bryce Zimmerer. A quarterfinal loss to East Butler on their home field fueled the Bulldogs' offseason push.
"We knew what it would take," Bryce Zimmerer said. "We knew we had to work a lot harder than the year before and it paid off."
Creighton will play Burwell in the D-1 final.
Burwell reaches final
No. 3 Burwell (12-0) held off North Central 23-22 to advance to its third state final in four seasons.
North Central (8-4) pulled to within 23-22 on Colton Munger's 40-yard touchdown catch with 5:50 remaining, but Burwell stopped the two-point attempt to preserve the lead.