Wells Hallmark
Sports

TIME OUT with Joe Flanagan

Monsters

Just call ‘em Monsters of the Mid-State.
With apologies to, and all due respect for, the Chicago Bears – the original Monsters of the Midway – it seems a fitting moniker for Norfolk Catholic, Boone Central/Newman Grove and Pierce.
Each fall, when the Nebraska State Football Playoffs roll around, coaches, players, and fans of Class C1 teams across the state turn wary eyes toward Northeast Nebraska – “which one, or ones, will it be this time?”
You can’t blame them for the trepidation.

Over the past 20 years, one of the aforementioned trio has been crowned C1 State Champion 11 times. O’Neill’s victory in Lincoln last season gave the Mid-State Conference 12 titles overall – and 14 finalists – during that span.
The Boone Central and Boone Central/Newman Grove Cardinals have won two state championships in four finals appearances. Pierce can claim the same. And then there’s Catholic, with its mind-boggling nine appearances and seven titles in the past 20 seasons.

The Knights won consecutive crowns in 1998-99 and 2004-05, and captured three straight over the period of 2010-2012.
The only other C1 school to win multiple championships during that 20-year span is Wahoo’s Bishop Neumann, with five appearances in the finals and back-to-back titles in 2002-03.
It hasn’t just been the Mid-State Monsters beating up on the rest of the class. They have butted heads numerous times during their respective playoff runs and waged memorable battles in championship games. Catholic topped Pierce in 1999 and 2010 finals, and defeated Boone Central in 2004 and Boone Central/Newman Grove in 2012. Boone Central knocked off Pierce for the Cardinals’ first state football championship in 2001.

So, anyone surprised to see these monsters comprise three-fourths of the 2017 C1 ‘final four’ should realize, this is just business as usual for the Cardinals, Knights and Bluejays.
You can track Mid-State dominance in Class C1 back even further. Pierce claimed its first championship of the Nebraska playoff era back in 1978. Catholic won titles in 1983 and 1991, giving the Knights 10 total, and Battle Creek won four championships (1981, 1986-87, 1992). The Braves had five other finals appearances from 1988 to 1996, and Catholic lost championship games in 1984 and 1993.
Add it all up and, since Nebraska began football playoffs, the Mid-State has claimed 19 championships and 34 finals berths in 41 years. Staggering numbers, which, with BC/NG and Pierce vieing in one of Friday’s semifinal games, will only go up in 2017.
Yeah, Northeast Nebraska football is pretty good.

Speaking of Friday’s clash, what more could you ask for on a November Friday night than a state semifinal featuring a heated conference rivalry? A game between teams who have fashioned their reputations with ferocious play through the years. All the makings of an old-fashioned ‘donnybrook.’
Interestingly enough, the Cardinals and Bluejays have six losses between them. It doesn’t imply any sort of weakness. That’s a testament to playing two of C1’s toughest schedules – all six losses coming to playoff qualifiers – and of well-coached squads improving measurably as the season progressed.
Boone Central/Newman Grove has ripped off seven straight victories since dropping a 48-35 decision to undefeated #1 Norfolk Catholic, which will play Wahoo in C1’s other semifinal. Pierce has won seven of its last nine contests, the losses to Catholic (13-28) and West Point-Beemer (28-35). The Bluejays got revenge for the latter, blitzing West Point-Beemer 54-34 in last week’s quarterfinal round.
Of course, there is also a head-to-head result to consider, as the Cardinals opened the 2017 season with a 42-20 victory over Pierce in Albion.

Same venue Friday, but not necessarily the same teams. Cardinal Coach Mark Hudson commented this week that Pierce, a team relying on a large number of underclassmen, went back to “old school Pierce” around midseason and are a much different team than BC/NG faced at the end of August. Speaking of his team’s growth after the victory over West Point-Beemer, Pierce Coach Mark Brahmer said, “we hope the sophomores are now juniors, and the juniors are like seniors.”
The senior-dominated Cards haven’t altered their style so much as simply perfected it. The Boone Central/Newman Grove defense, especially, has improved immensely the past two months, according to Hudson.
You can ‘mark’ it down – Hudson and Brahmer will have their squads ready and rarin’ to go. The players on both sides will be anxious to fulfill their dreams of playing in a state championship game. Fans will anticipate the kickoff all week long.

Playoff football. Mid-State Monsters. A trip to Lincoln on the line.
If you aren’t excited for this one, best check your pulse.