There were no state championships or finals appearances, as had been enjoyed the previous five seasons, but the Boone Central Cardinals kept their playoff streak alive from 2005-2009.
Following the banner 2004 season, which the Cardinals finished with a last-second C1 championship game loss at Memorial Stadium, Boone Central would field a very young team in 2005.
The Cardinals returned 15 lettermen, but just four starters in ‘05. Gone was a sterling 2004 senior class of 18 players, which included numerous All-District performers and All-State selections Jason Zabka, Thomas Wells, Tyler Shotkoski and Seth Flanagan.
“I feel we have a talented bunch that could be a very good team at the end. I don’t know if our first three opponents will let us come along slowly, however. We better be ready to go,” Coach Arnie Johnson told the Albion News preseason.
C1 Top 10 Lakeview topped Boone Central 17-7 in the season opener, scoring after two Cardinal fumbles and setting up another touchdown with a 65-yard pass play.
The Cards did salvage one of those first three games, however, edging another physical Crofton team 20-13. Boone Central stopped Warrior drives inside the 20-yard line in the first and fourth quarters and halted Crofton’s final possession with an interception. Joel Johnson’s 31-yard punt return set up an early Card touchdown and, with Boone Central trailing 13-12, Matt Temme scored his second TD early in the fourth period. Patrick Cook hit Zach Olson with a two-point conversion and the defense held Crofton on two subsequent drives, Justin Niewohner sealing the win with the final interception.
C1 #3 Norfolk Catholic dominated BC, but the Cardinals bounced back again to nip G.I. Central Catholic 6-0. The News noted, “Having persevered through a somewhat tumultuous start to the season – facing arguably Class C1’s toughest opening schedule, fighting nagging injuries and dealing with player suspensions due to team and school rules violations – Boone Central evened its record at 2-2 in an old-fashioned, hard-fought slugfest.”
It continued to be one step forward, one step back, as St. Paul defeated BC 20-16. The Wildcats took the lead on a 48-yard touchdown pass in the closing minutes and Boone Central’s last drive in the final 2:40 came up seven yards short. “This was a tough one to lose because we came so close to pulling off what would have been a fantastic victory,” Johnson rued.
Boone Central began to gain some momentum with a 47-6 win over their old friends from Central City, giving the Cards a 237-14 collective scoring advantage over the Bison in the past four seasons.
Kraig Flanagan and Tye Nolan each pilfered two of Boone Central’s five interceptions in a 34-13 win over Centura and the Cardinals won their fifth straight district title with a 33-14 decision over Ord, as Michael Horn threw a 45-yard halfback pass touchdown to Eric Petsche, Flanagan connected with Niewohner for a 16-yard TD strike and Cook rambled 50 yards for another score.
On to the playoffs, which Boone Central did not find kind. Creighton completely bottled up the Card offense, allowing just 135 total yards in a 27-0 victory. Johnson told the News, “We need to learn from the year. The seniors should use the season as a positive for their future. Our underclassmen need to use the experience to learn and improve for next season.”
The 5-4 Cardinals were represented by seniors Matt Temme, Daniel Lindgren, Joel Johnson, Ryan Hagemann, Dennis Reicks and Zach Olson and junior Trevor Stokes in All-District selections.
Boone Central entered the 2006 campaign with a 49-8 record and 13-4 playoff mark since the school’s formation. Johnson, 128-62 in 19 seasons at Albion and Boone Central, welcomed back 16 lettermen, including 10 seniors and five starters.
“We are working hard in preparing our younger players to execute early. We want to act like winners and work very hard. If we work hard and act the part, everything should take care of itself as the season progresses,” Johnson said.
The Cardinals got off to a flying start, defeating preseason #9 Lakeview 33-13. This would be a bit different team than Johnson’s usual ground-oriented squads. Boone Central showed a big-strike attack as junior quarterback Kraig Flanagan connected with senior split end Brandon Reinhart on passes of 35, 56, 26, 23 and 24 yards, two for touchdowns.
Boone Central then pushed #1 Norfolk Catholic to the limit in a tough 25-19 loss. BC took leads of 6-0, 12-7 and 19-15 before the Knights rallied a final time. Trailing 15-12 in the third quarter, Flanagan connected on 6-of-6 passes during an 81-yard drive, finding Nolan with the 14-yard TD on a fourth down play. Catholic sacked Flanagan for a safety in the fourth period, then took a 25-19 lead on a 37-yard touchdown pass with 2:01 to play. Nolan started Boone Central’s final effort with a 20 yard dash and Flanagan connected with Reinhart on a fourth-down pass to the Catholic 25. With no timeouts, Boone Central spiked the ball to stop the clock at :32 and a final fourth-down pass in the waning seconds was just beyond the reach of Tyson Martin in the corner of the end zone.
“You know, it’s very hard to be upset with this one. Yes, we made some errors and, yes, we weren’t very polished. But as long as our team plays with this intensity and attitude, we will keep improving, the polish will begin to show and the errors will stop,” Johnson praised after the game.
Boone Central followed with a victory over Scotus in a game delayed by thunderstorms. “When the teams finally kicked off – more than two hours after the scheduled time – Scotus had to wonder if the storms had really stopped. Boone Central hit the visiting Shamrocks with scoring thunderbolts of 24, 50 and 85 yards to spark a 28-6 victory,” the News reported. Nolan had five receptions for 170 yards and TDs of 24 and 85 yards, while Reinhart scooped up a fumbled Scotus punt snap and raced 50 yards for a score.
Boone Central followed by pasting Central City once again (the 26-0 final making the cumulative score 263-14 over the past five seasons).
The Cards led undefeated St. Paul 13-0 and 20-13 the next week before the Wildcats rallied for a 34-20 victory. BC was its own worst enemy, Johnson commenting, “It’s amazing, with 110 yards in penalties and five turnovers, that we had a chance to win at all. On the positive side, our team continues to play with a lot of heart and gives great effort. We played another physical game and showed strengths we can build on.”
Boone Central entered its game vs. G.I. Central Catholic leading C1 in passing yardage, but with winds gusting to nearly 40 miles per hour, a tough Crusader defense grounded the Card air attack in a 20-0 decision.
The Cardinals rebounded to post a hard-earned 17-7 win over Ord and dominated Centura 40-14 to clinch a playoff berth at 5-3.
Boone Central, seeded #9 in the West playoff bracket of C1, may have surprised some people in the early rounds. The Cardinals knocked off #8 Battle Creek 20-3 to open the postseason. Trailing 3-0 at halftime, Boone Central recovered a Brave fumble in the third quarter and went ahead on Nolan’s 10-yard touchdown run. The News related the subsequent tale, as “Reinhart made the offensive play of the game. Flanagan lofted a pass to the senior wideout on second down and Reinhart, timing his leap perfectly, outjumped the Battle Creek defender and trotted into the end zone after shedding a tackle attempt.”
Boone Central then shocked undefeated #1 seed St. Paul 28-25 in a rematch. Two huge plays in the third quarter turned an 18-14 halftime deficit into a 28-18 lead. Brent Dawson broke free through the middle of the Wildcat defense and rambled 63 yards on the first play of the second half, and Nolan’s 75-yard TD sprint later in the period proved to be the game-winner. St. Paul added a touchdown and threatened to take the lead in the fourth quarter, but the BC defense twice held inside the 20 and ended another red zone foray with an interception.
Boone Central’s inspired playoff run finally ended with a 21-14 quarterfinal loss to undefeated Valentine. It was the fourth time BC had reached the quarterfinal round in the school’s six seasons. The Cardinals squandered several scoring opportunities in the first half and could not contain speedy Valentine split end Taylor McCormick, who caught touchdown passes of 24, 30 and 57 yards. Ryan Shotkoski connected with Nolan on a 33 yard TD pass in the fourth quarter to pull BC within seven and the Cards drove to the Badger 43-yard line with 1:44 to play before a fourth-down pass fell incomplete.
Despite the loss, Johnson had glowing words for his 7-4 team, “Before even commenting on the game, I’d like to say what a pleasure it has been to coach these athletes. Their attitude, character and dedication will make this year a highlight in my coaching career. It is hard to give them up for their next activity – the Boone Central community really has something to be proud of.”
Trevor Stokes (DL), Ryan Wells (LB), Brandon Reinhart (SE), Tye Nolan (RB), Nick Kayton (OL) and Ryan Shotkoski (DB) were All-District selections following the season, and Wells earned All-State honors from the Omaha World-Herald and Lincoln Journal-Star.
As in 2001 and 2004, Boone Central was led by a large, strong senior class in 2007.
The Cardinals opened with a 14-7 win over Lakeview in a battle of C1 Top 10 teams, but fell 37-28 to #3 Norfolk Catholic the following week despite outyarding the Knights 413-309. Nine penalties and three turnovers led Johnson to comment, “The film tells us we have many areas we can – and will – improve on.”
Boone Central faced a third straight Top 10 foe and edged Scotus, as the News recounted, “The Scotus Shamrocks had Boone Central staggered on the ropes – taking a 17-13 halftime lead – before the Cardinals came out swinging and assumed a 10-point advantage by dominating the first 18 minutes of the second half. Boone Central then withstood a final furious flurry by Scotus – including a touchdown and onside kick recovery in the final minute of play – to claim a wild 27-23 decision.” Johnson could see the good, and still some bad, “If you were at the game, you certainly had to be entertained. Obviously, we need to shore up our miscues to really reach our potential.”
Potential these Cardinals did have, though.
The Cardinals began to find some rhythm and picked up momentum the following week with a 34-14 victory over Central City. (I have admittedly picked on the Bison program the past several weeks in this series. Still, the total score of the past six games between the schools was now 297-28. Sheesh.)
Boone Central whitewashed St. Paul 21-0, then closed out a 7-1 regular season with dominant wins over GICC (33-7), Ord (34-7) and Centura (56-0).
That roll continued in the qualifying round of the playoffs, as Boone Central pummeled Minden 41-6. That set up another playoff battle against an always-tough, physical Crofton program. The Cards took a seven-game win streak, with an average score of 35-8, into the contest.
Boone Central would prevail 17-14 in the end, holding just the slightest edge in ‘a tale of two halves.’
The Cardinals rolled to a 17-0 halftime lead that could realistically have been 21-0 or 28-0. After halftime, however, a determined Crofton team fought back, using two Cardinal turnovers and two long scoring drives to mount a comeback that reached the Boone Central 11-yard line in the waning seconds.
Boone Central began the game with a long drive that ended on a fumble inside the Crofton one-yard line. Undaunted, the Cards forced a three-and-out and went ahead 7-0 on Flanagan’s 26-yard TD pass to Anthony Michael. Flanagan converted a fourth down with a 17-yard run on the subsequent Card possession, but BC stalled and settled for Bryce Morgan’s field goal to lead 10-0. Flanagan finished an outstanding first half with a 12-yard option run and 26-yard pass to Jason Bader, with the News reporting, “The senior lefty then lofted a pass to the corner of the end zone and Kalvin Zoucha outleaped a Crofton defender to make the touchdown catch with :21 on the clock.”
Flanagan opened the second half with a 37-yard run, but then lost a fumble and Crofton used its traditional power-T attack to grind 74 yards in 17 plays, consuming nearly the entire third quarter. The Warriors’ TD and two-point conversion on a fake kick made it 17-8. Boone Central followed with its only three-and-out possession of the game and Crofton came right back, marching 75 yards in 16 plays. The PAT failed, leaving BC with a three-point lead.
The Warriors intercepted another Flanagan aerial with 2:20 to play, however. Warrior quarterback Tanner Foxhoven completed a fourth-down pass, then ran for a second first down at the Cardinal 11-yard line with :40 remaining. Following an illegal procedure penalty and incomplete pass, the News recounted, “With 10 seconds remaining, Foxhoven fired to Weston Foxhoven, but the ball caromed off his fingertips into the waiting arms of Tyson Martin at the six-yard line.”
The Cardinals had survived, only to face a trip to Siberia the following week. Actually, it was Norfolk, where bitter north winds plunged wind chill temperatures into the low teens. Norfolk Catholic, 10-1, pounded out 237 of its 311 total yards on the ground and held Boone Central to just 62 yards rushing in a 28-7 victory. BC, unable to muster a passing attack in the conditions, was never able to threaten the Knights or stop Catholic momentum.
A disappointing ending against a fierce rival, but an outstanding 9-2 season, with Johnson praising, “Our coaches will miss working with these kids. They are hard-working and just a fun group to be around. We learned a lot together that will help us with decisions in the future.”
Eight Cardinals – Kraig Flanagan (QB), Jason Bader (RB), Michael O’Brien (OL), Dustin McBride (DL), Brent Dawson (LB), Tyson Martin (DB), Anthony Michael (DB) and Kalvin Zoucha (TE) – were selected to the All-District team. Flanagan was chosen the C1 All-State QB by the World-Herald and Journal-Star.
Another stellar senior class departed, leaving Boone Central with just four returning starters in 2008, two of which were past All-District performers Ryan Shotkoski and Kalvin Zoucha.
The Cardinals got a dose of reality early, as preseason #3 Norfolk Catholic rolled up a 38-0 lead on the first possession of the third quarter and eased to a 38-9 victory.
A young team needing confidence experienced a heartbreaker in week two, as G.I. Central Catholic eked out a 7-6 win when Boone Central’s PAT attempt was deflected. The woes continued with a 9-7 loss to Fillmore Central, which prompted the News reporter to pen, “Pardon the Boone Central football team if it doesn’t want to hear the word ‘kick’ anytime soon.” Panther kicker Trevor Sanchez booted field goals of 37, 34 and 37 yards – the game-winner with :20 to play.
Boone Central finally broke the ice the following week with a 31-20 victory over stubborn Centennial. Trailing 14-7 in the third period, Boone Central drove 60 yards to score, only to have the PAT blocked (of course). The Cards were determined, however, bouncing back with an 18-yard TD jaunt by Keir Dane Harner and Shotkoski’s two-point conversion. Tyler Wullenwaber returned the ensuing kickoff 97 yards to pull Centennial within 21-20, but Shotkoski fired a touchdown pass to Zoucha and Boone Central recovered a ‘pooch kick,’ setting up field position for a final tally.
Boone Central blanked Twin River 30-0, but lost a key district contest to Madison, 21-12. Dragon standout Drew Wagner rushed for 215 yards on 38 carries – his fourth 200 yard effort in the first six games, giving him over 1,300 yards.
The Cardinal defense then led a 20-6 win over David City. Zoucha returned a Scout fumble 57 yards for a touchdown, and 15 seconds later, Nathan Olson picked off a David City screen pass and rumbled 25 yards to paydirt.
The victory, and 3-4 record, secured a playoff berth in Nebraska’s expanded 32-team bracket. The Cards could not keep their momentum going in the reguar season finale, however, dropping a 17-0 decision to Scotus on a cold, wet night.
Boone Central’s playoff reward was a date with undefeated, #1 rated and #1 seeded Hastings St. Cecelia. The Bluehawks had outscored opponents 348-33 during the regular season and continued that domination with a 49-0 victory over the Cards.
Johnson was not fazed by the final score in the final game of a 3-6 season, “If you weren’t at the game, you might be surprised to hear this, but I’m as proud of this group as any I’ve ever coached. We really just kept playing hard. I don’t think I have ever seen as great an effort when the outcome of a game had already been decided. It may not show on the scoreboard, but we have a team of winners.”
Seniors Dusty Dozler, Bryce Morgan, Keir Dane Harner and Kalvin Zoucha, and juniors Nathan Olson and Dustin Christo were All-District choices.
Johnson entered the 2009 season with 147 wins at Albion/Boone Central and six returning starters. He told the News preseason, “At this point we feel we have 7-8 players that would fit into any of our past teams. The big question is if we can find the other 7-8 we feel we need to be a top team in our class.”
Unfortunately, the young Cardinals opened against preseason #1 Norfolk Catholic, rushing for just 35 yards in a 31-13 loss. G.I. Central Catholic then defeated Boone Central 27-6 in a steady rainfall and Fillmore Central dropped the Cards to 0-3 with an 18-0 whitewash. Boone Central could not keep up with a swift Centennial squad the following week, as the Broncos recorded scoring strikes of 37, 56, 40 and 83 yards in a 41-13 win.
Outscored 117-33 in the 0-4 start, Boone Central got a much-needed shot of confidence with a 41-0 pasting of Twin River. Julian Kunzman completed 7-of-13 passes for 141 yards and seven Cards rushed for more 10 or more yards.
BC made it two straight with a 25-6 victory over Madison. Kunzman’s 44-yard pass to Kevin Liss on the opening drive sparked the Cards and Lane Anderson’s interception set up a 10-yard TD run by Logan Frey in the fourth quarter. Anderson’s 35-yard touchdown gallop sealed the decision.
The Cards hit a road bump against David City, dropping a 28-7 decision. Boone Central’s only score was on Jerad McLean’s 98-yard dash with 1:18 to play.
Resilient, Boone Central bounced back to blank Scotus 30-0 and qualified for the state playoffs with a 3-5 mark. The Card offensive line dominated, as McLean rushed for 85 yards, Dustin Christo 80 and Anderson 75.
Boone Cental again had a short stay in the postseason – but a very long trip. BC made the seven-hour sojourn to Chadron, losing a 21-8 matchup of Cardinals.
A snowstorm had dumped over a foot of snow in the panhandle, leaving the Chadron field a “muddy quagmire,” according to the News. With a start reminiscent of Boone Central’s sluggish early performance in the 2002 state semifinal at Gothenburg, the Cardinals ran just 12 plays in the first two quarters and fell behind 21-0 by intermission.
Boone Central found its footing in the second half and the Card defense dominated, recovering two fumbles and intercepting three Chadron pass attempts. Boone Central could score only on its final possession, however, when Kunzman completed five passes and concluded a 58-yard drive with a 20 yard strike to Keenan Howell. Kunzman gamely completed 7-of-18 passes for over 100 yards, but BC could manage just 66 yards rushing. Christo and Olson were dervishes on defense, recording 13 and 12 solo tackles respectively.
Olson, Christo, Kody Maricle and Kevin Liss were selected All-District following the 3-6 season. Olson was awarded All-State honors by the World-Herald and Journal-Star for his efforts in the line.
Not the best of finishes to the decade, but the Card playoff streak was intact and Boone Central was poised for another run of stunning success in the seasons ahead.
Next week, its wins and champions as we near the end of the Cardinal Football History Series.