Elkhorn South, after winning two of the last three Class B state football titles, served notice Friday night to the Class A field that playoff experience counts.
The unranked Storm overcame a scoop-and-score by Lincoln High to open the fourth quarter and held on to defeat the seventh-rated Links, 27-24 at the Beechner Athletic Complex in a first-round game of the Class A playoffs.
South (7-3) answered every challenge Lincoln High presented and took the lead for good on a 68 yard touchdown run by Eli Hustad with 1:04 left in the first half.
Lincoln High (7-3) trailed early following a 12-yard scoring run by South’s Cooper Jewett on the Storm’s first possession of the game. The Links responded with a 34-yard scoring pass from Cedric Case to C.J. Jones and took a 14-7 lead when Isaiah Alford, a Nebraska wrestling recruit, broke loose for a 46 yard touchdown run on the first play of the second quarter.
The Storm never wavered and following Hustad’s second touchdown of the game, turned to its defense in the second half to preserve the win. Alford, who rushed for 144 yards in the first half, was held to just 34 yards on 11 carries in the second half.
“Our defensive coordinator, Sam Stanley, is an amazing coach and he made a few minor adjustments,” Rosenberg said. “But mainly it was just our kids getting out there and playing hard and getting penetration on the defensive line. Jack Paradis and the other linebackers were really flowing to the ball and Kobe Ballard made some real aggressive plays on some short passes.”
South’s defense against Alford in the final two periods was as impressive as its pressure on Case for most of the game. Case, a senior who holds most of Lincoln High’s passing records, completed 20-of-37 for 191 yards and two interceptions.
“Our defense did an amazing job at the end of bowing their backs and finding a way to get it done,” South coach Guy Rosenberg said. “One of the big cornerstones of our program is to play the next play. It’s amazing how many games you can win if you play a little rope-a-dope and hang in there.”
Lincoln High clawed its way back into the game when Alford scooped up a Hustad fumble on the first play of the fourth quarter and raced 64 yards for a touchdown to slice South’s lead to three.
The Storm’s defense then held off a final charge by the Links as Case completed seven passes in a drive that reached fourth-and-8 on South’s 41-yard line.
On fourth down, with 36 seconds to play, Case was forced to scramble but was called for an illegal forward pass. The Storm took over and went into victory formation for the final play.
“Just too many turnovers,” Lincoln High coach Mark Macke said. “We knew this was going to be a tough game. You have to give Elkhorn South credit. You can tell when teams have playoff experience. I was worried about how we’d respond if we got into a four quarter game and we didn’t respond very well. We had to earn everything we got.”