Our journey through the annals of Cardinal football history is nearing its conclusion. It’s been a long and winding foray to this point, covering 90 seasons from 1920 to 2009.
Encompassing Albion, then Petersburg and, just ahead, Newman Grove, we’ve encountered twists and turns, peaks and valleys, winning streaks, losing skids, championships and near misses.
We’ve met the coaches who molded Cardinal squads, good and bad. We’ve enjoyed the exploits of all-conference, all-district and all-state stars. There were conference changes, the advent of state playoffs, a merger and, coming up, a cooperative.
Through it all, one constant has been evident – Cardinal spirit and pride.
As we begin the final decade with this week’s edition of the series, I decided to split the final 10 seasons into three parts. This week will feature 2010-2012, what I’ll call “Scaling the Heights.” That will be followed by “The Pinnacle,” and finally, “Carrying On.”
Cardinal fans know the thrills that lie ahead. We may have had a long journey to date, but I promise plenty of fun and excitement yet to come!
Scaling the Heights
Although Boone Central was coming off consecutive 3-6 seasons following a banner 9-2 campaign in 2007, the Cardinals had kept their playoff streak intact and were ready to attack a new decade.
Boone Central had just three starters returning on each side of the football in 2010, but the talent cupboard wasn’t bare in Albion and Petersburg. Coach Arnie Johnson noted preseason, “We feel we have some athletes that are capable of making plays. If we can get our athletes into the open field, I think we can get some things done.”
It took some time for the Cardinals to find their footing, however, dropping a sloppy opener to Battle Creek, 25-21. The Albion News accounted, “Penalties. Turnovers. Botched assignments. Missed tackles. Mistakes are common in season openers, especially for young, inexperienced football teams.” Boone Central took the lead late in the third quarter on a Zach Westerman to Keenan Howell TD pass, but Battle Creek answered with an 86-yard kickoff return touchdown, then scored two more times in the final period.
BC turned things around in week two, defeating Lakeview 19-6 as Logan Frey and Blake Slizoski scored on runs of 59 and 57 yards, respectively. “We, as a team, were pleased to go from six turnovers last week to one this week. That was certainly a big difference in the outcome. I wish parents and fans could have seen and heard how hard our assistant coaches and players worked in practice this past week to improve,” Johnson told the News.
The Cardinals made it two straight in a 28-21 thriller over Wayne. Boone Central built a 20-0 lead through three quarters, and Wayne stormed back to lead 21-20 with 3:05 to play. Sophomore quarterback Tanner Mazour followed with one of his first ‘magic acts,’ directing a 95-yard touchdown drive. Mazour ran 11 yards for one first down and completed passes of 9, 9, 17 and 10 yards, the latter to Brett Temme at the Wayne 15-yard line. He finally fired a touchdown strike to Howell with :57 to play and ran for the two-point conversion. “I was very impressed with the lack of panic we saw in our team at the end of the game,” Johnson commented.
There were stumbles ahead.
Boone Central dropped a 7-3 decision at Ord the following week, missing a chance for a second straight dramatic comeback by fumbling inside the Chanticleer 10-yard line in the final minute. Class C1 #2 Pierce then walloped the Cards 39-14 after building a 33-0 halftime lead.
In perhaps the most important game of the season, Boone Central topped St. Paul 24-15 for a big district victory. The Cardinal defense held St. Paul to 199 total yards and Mazour led the offense with two touchdown passes. “One of our main goals was to have a great first and third quarter. We felt if we came out strong, we could put a little doubt into St. Paul. We did have a good start and made enough plays throughout to stay in front,” Johnson relayed to the News.
The defense would continue to shine.
Boone Central limited O’Neill to just 166 yards and forced three turnovers to spearhead an 18-14 win. After trailing 14-0 at halftime, the Card offense rallied following intermission. And, again, it was #13 leading the way. Mazour hit Howell with an 8-yard TD pass, returned a punt 60 yards to pull BC within 14-12, then fired a 9-yard touchdown strike to Howell for the game winner with 3:09 to play.
The BC defense pitched a 12-0 shutout over Central City in the regular-season finale, securing a playoff berth with a 5-3 record.
The Cardinals, seeded #11 in the West, played their best game at an opportune time, shocking #5 seed Broken Bow 21-9 in the first round of postseason action. The Cardinals forced six Bow turnovers while Mazour ran for an 18-yard touchdown, hit Frey with a 20-yard scoring pass and set up a final three-yard TD run by Colton Mazour with passes of 11 and 26 yards to Trey Sorell and 25 yards to Howell.
Johnson praised his team after the contest, “We had a fantastic start! Our defense did a great job stopping Broken Bow’s strong running game and our offensive execution was really quite amazing at times.”
However, as tends to be the case with young football teams, the Cardinals were unable to duplicate that performance, losing a 10-6 rematch against St. Paul. The News reported, “Boone Central’s chances of advancing in the 2010 Nebraska State High School Football Playoffs were swept away with the brisk north wind at the Albion athletic field. The blustery conditions, along with a swarming St. Paul defense that put relentless pressure on Cardinal QB Tanner Mazour, largely grounded the potent air attack that was the impetus of Boone Central’s opening-round upset win at Broken Bow.”
“Well, it’s hard to say it’s over – we really had a great group of kids to coach and saw a lot of improvement from the beginning of the season. We played hard and never quit to the end. The leadership we had this year will really help us build for the next several seasons,” Johnson said of his 6-4 squad. Seniors Keenan Howell, Lane Anderson, Logan Frey, Matt Spieker and Trey Sorell; juniors Zach Wurdeman and Colton Mazour and sophomore Tanner Mazour were All-District selections at the conclusion of the season.
With 15 lettermen and eight starters back in 2011, Johnson told the News preseason, “We will have a few more players returning with experience. We haven’t had that in a few years. We should have a year where we can form an identity on offense and defense, rather than trying to come up with something new all the time.”
The Albion News said it all about the season opener in one word leading off the game report, “Whew!”
Boone Central edged Battle Creek 21-19 in a Mid-State Conference barn burner. Slizoski burst 70 yards to give the Cardinals an early lead and Tanner Mazour raced 55 yards to make it 14-7. Battle Creek again answered the BC touchdown, but had the PAT blocked. Mazour connected with Hunter Henry for a 27-yard scoring strike on the first possession of the second half, and Boone Central hung on from there. The Cardinals blocked a second Battle Creek PAT, Slizoski and Wurdeman intercepted Battle Creek passes in the fourth quarter, and BC stopped the Braves on fourth down of another late drive.
There was no joy in Mudville, or Albion, or Petersburg, the following week, as Lakeview stunned Boone Central 27-21 in overtime. The Cards surged to a 14-0 lead and held a 14-7 advantage entering the fourth quarter. Lakeview turned the tables with two touchdowns in the final period, taking a 21-14 lead before Colton Mazour’s four-yard TD run, following four Tanner Mazour pass completions, sent the game to extra time. Boone Central missed a field goal in overtime and Preston Luedtke swept end for a 10-yard touchdown and Viking win.
Boone Central dominated Wayne 35-0 the following week, holding the Blue Devils to 69 total yards, then delivered Johnson’s 200th career victory with a hard-fought 14-7 decision over Ord. Johsnon commented about his 159th Albion/Boone Central win, “This was easily the most physical game we’ve played to this point. As a coaching staff, we weren’t pleased with our sloppy play, which resulted in four turnovers. At the same time, we were very pleased we have a team that keeps playing hard. We were able to make some plays that gave us the opportunity to win.”
Playing hard wasn’t enough against C1 #2 Pierce, as the Bluejays thumped Boone Central for a second straight season, 35-7.
The Cardinals proved resilient, defeating St. Paul in a pivotal district contest despite distractions. In a game postponed until Saturday by severe Friday night thunderstorms, the Cards were ready from the outset. Tyler Hedlund’s interception and 73-yard return changed field position and momentum, setting up Colton Mazour’s 15-yard touchdown bolt. The senior back added a 37-yard TD gallop midway through the second quarter and BC built a 27-0 advantage on its way to the win.
The offense struggled the following week, but Boone Central nipped O’Neill 3-0 to get a leg up in the C1-8 District race. The Card defense held O’Neill to 57 rush yards, 96 total yards and five first downs, making Colton Mazour’s 23-yard first-half field goal hold up. “Our defense played lights-out throughout the game,” Johnson understated later.
Boone Central won the C1-8 District crown with a 21-13 decision over Central City, but Johnson felt his 6-2 charges were capable of more, “We are pleased that this team was able to again start the tradition of Boone Central winning its district. I believe we are still a team that can get better. We have the ability to beat a team like Central City by a wider margin. We are looking forward to the playoffs and we’ll see if our execution can get a little better.”
The Cardinals apparently received their coach’s message, walloping Gordon-Rushville 60-7 in the opening round of postseason play. Freshman Wyatt Mazour led BC rushing with 101 yards, Colton Mazour added 52 and Tanner Mazour 50.
Undefeated #3 West seed Minden ended Boone Central’s season there with a 21-12 victory on a frigid early November evening. The News called the game, “excruciating, frustrating.” BC outyarded the Whippets by 100 yards, but couldn’t overcome key turning points in the contest. Minden scored the game’s first touchdown by recovering their own fumble in the end zone after two Cardinals had clear shots at the loose ball. Boone Central lost a fumble at its own five-yard line, setting up a Minden touchdown that made it 14-6 in the third quarter. Whippet fullback Jack Rafferty broke free for a 45-yard touchdown rumble on a fourth-and-short-yardage play to seal the decision in the final period.
Though disappointed, Johnson said, “This team came a long way from the beginning of the season. They always gave great effort and should be commended for that.”
Boone Central (7-3) dominated All-District voting, with 10 Cards honored – seniors Colton Mazour, Alex Johnson, Tony Krohn, Sean Soll and Parker Struebing; juniors Tanner Mazour, Beau Bremer, Hallick Lehmann, Blake Slizoski and sophomore Derek Gentrup.
Star City Bound
Beginning with the first year of the Albion/Petersburg merger, Boone Central had gained a glowing reputation for its successful football program. In fact, leading up to the first year of the Boone Central/Newman Grove cooperative venture, Bob Jensen wrote in the 2012 Huskerland Prep Report, “They win at Boone, that’s what they do.”
When Albion and Petersburg joined forces, it produced a state title in season one. Could the Albion/Petersburg/Newman Grove triumvirate pull off such a feat, as well?
Experience and depth certainly became assets and strengths, with 18 total lettermen returning. Eight Boone Central starters were back from the Cards’ 2011 squad and Newman Grove provided four returning starters from a successful D2 program.
Boone Central/Newman Grove, ranked #7 in preseason C1 Top 10s, made an early statement by blasting West Point-Beemer 40-0, then defeating #4 Pierce 21-7. The News reported, “Although Pierce entered the contest with the higher preseason ranking – #4 to #7 – this was no upset. The Cardinals played a solid, complete game, dominated the third quarter and proved to be, at this point of the season, the better team.” Johnson added after the game, “This was a great opportunity for us in the early part of the season. We were able to make a lot of improvements from the week before, partly because we were playing a traditional power in Pierce.”
It was out of the frying pan, into the fire in week three, as C1 #1 Norfolk Catholic edged BCNG 35-31 at Albion. Catholic coach Jeff Bellar called it, “a big-time playoff atmosphere – just a great high school football game.”
Boone Central took a 31-21 lead late in the third quarter when the News recounted, “Mazour fielded a Knight punt along the right sideline, broke an early tackle attempt and took advantage of several key blocks, then broke through a final knot of defenders and raced the final yards to complete an electrifying 77-yard punt return.” Catholic pulled within three points on the last play of the third quarter and finally went ahead on Jordan Love’s 10-yard TD dash in the final minutes.
Johnson was pleased with his team’s performance, but focused and determined about the future of a squad he knew was oozing with potential, “I felt we played better than we did the week before. We feel we can get better yet, so the next week of practice without a game can be very valuable.”
After its bye week, Boone Central/Newman Grove – now ranked #3 in C1 – came out with its fires fully stoked and smoked helpless Scotus 48-14. Tanner Mazour dazzled (again), completing 12-of-14 passes for 209 yards and two touchdowns, and rushing for 129 yards and a TD in just seven carries.
BCNG may have lowered its guard just a bit against a 1-4 David City team, which used an aggressive defensive scheme Johnson said the Scouts had not shown before. The hosts held a 14-13 lead before BCNG rallied, outscoring David City 22-7 in the fourth quarter of a 35-21 victory. Fully focused again, the Cardinals then rolled past Madison 34-8 to set up a much-anticipated #3 vs. #4 showdown – Boone Central/Newman Grove against Lakeview.
With the district title on the line, BCNG was the team that lived up to its rep and ranking, crushing the Vikings 35-7. Mazour rushed for 184 yards, with TD jaunts of 34 and 45 yards, and passed for another 97 yards. Johnson had some high praise after this one, “Our defensive coaches had a great plan, and the talent of our players made it work. Lakeview was scoring 41 points a game and we held them to seven. Amazing! We were able to make more big plays than a team that lives on big plays. The real key offensively was the play of our line.”
BCNG blew by G.I. Central Catholic 41-7 to finish the regular season 7-1 and Johnson commented, “As we start our playoff season, we are pretty healthy and confident.”
BCNG was seeded #1 in the West bracket and proceeded to sweep away the best the state’s far west could offer. The Cardinals thrashed visiting Ogallala 48-0 in the first round, then traveled 300 miles to dispatch Chase County 48-20 at Imperial. Recalling the long trip to Gothenburg, and sluggish start in a 2002 semifinal loss, BCNG welcomed the Swedes to Albion and ripped off a 38-20 win that wasn’t as close as the final score. The Cardinals used an 80-yard kickoff return TD and 47-yard scoring pass to take a 24-7 halftime lead and held a 38-7 bulge through three quarters.
Johnson summed it up after the contest, “The bottom line is, we’re in the round of four, with a chance to go to Lincoln. We’re ready to go.”
And go they did! With one of the finest performances and victories in Card history. In a classic high school football game at Albion, Boone Central/Newman Grove knocked off undefeated Class C1 #1 Adams Central 21-14 with a fourth-quarter rally.
This contest was featured earlier in the Albion News’ Most Memorable Cardinal Football Games series (May 20 edition), with details and highlights found there and by clicking the Sports tab at albionnewsonline.com. The conclusion was dramatic, as the News reported, “Cardinal junior Derek Gentrup gathered in a pass from senior QB Tanner Mazour and stretched to the full limit of his six-foot frame to inch the ball across the goal line and score the deciding touchdown with just over six minutes to play. From there, the BCNG defense took over, stymieing the Patriots on their final three chances – the last two in the final two minutes of play.”
Simply an outstanding football game and tremendous performance that had been three years in the making.
It was on to Lincoln and another clash with – who else? – the Cardinals’ old friends from Norfolk Catholic. Catholic would break a 3-3 halftime stalemate and, in the process of denying BCNG a state championship, make history of its own by becoming the first Nebraska school to win three consecutive Class C1 titles.
Boone Central/Newman Grove did take its only lead of the game, 13-10, in the third period before Jordan Love’s 60-yard run set up a Catholic touchdown. Catholic added a final late TD and intercepted Cardinal passes on three of BCNG’s final four possessions.
Johnson was understandably proud of his 11-2 state runners-up, “I was pleased with our team for a lot of reasons. I worked with the best coaching staff I have ever worked with this year. The players were committed and expected great things. Their improvement from the first game to the last was tremendous and the leadership of our seniors was second to none.”
Cardinals voted All-District were seniors Beau Bremer, Tanner Mazour, Blake Slizoski, Hunter Henry and Hallick Lehmann, and juniors Derek Gentrup, Alex Wiese and Tyler Hedlund.
Tanner Mazour was the C1 All-State quarterback in the Omaha World-Herald and Lincoln Journal-Star, joined by intimidating 6-foot-7, 240-pound lineman Beau Bremer.
“They win at Boone, that’s what they do.”
Amen, and pass the football. The Cardinal highlights are just getting started.
(Next week, the greatest Cardinal football season ever?)