I mentioned last week, as we began looking back at this past decade of Cardinal football, that I would divide the 10-year span into three segments – ‘Scaling the Heights,’ ‘The Pinnacle’ and ‘Carrying On.’
Boone Central/Newman Grove had indeed scaled the heights once again in 2012, reaching the Class C1 state championship game for the third time in Cardinal history and losing only to three-time C1 champion Norfolk Catholic during a sparkling 11-2 season.
What to do for an encore? How about 24-1 and the school’s second playoff-era state championship? Maybe not so much an encore, as 2012 serving as a prelude. I believe, by the end of this week’s segment of the Cardinal Football History Series, you’ll understand why I chose the title, ‘The Pinnacle.’
Another Mazour, More Success
Boone Central/Newman Grove returned a whopping 34 lettermen for the 2013 season, although the Cardinals did have to replace seven defensive starters and six offensive starters. Card Coach Arnie Johnson, entering the campaign with 215 career victories and a 174-89 record at Albion/Boone Central, told the Albion News preseason, “It should be difficult to defend our offense. The defense should have 11 players who can make plays. Our depth should be good. This combination will get us ranked fairly high. However, we need to get down to business, not listen to the hype and make it happen.”
Some may have wondered about Johnson’s confidence in his offense following the graduation of C1 All-State quarterback Tanner Mazour, who had just fashioned perhaps the finest three-year run by a signal-caller in Cardinal history.
Well, it doesn’t hurt when you simply call on another Mazour with a different number. In fact, Cardinal fans, not to mention BCNG opponents, hadn’t seen anyhing yet.
Junior Wyatt Mazour, who had rushed for more than 500 yards as a sophomore halfback, stepped into his brother’s shoes and Boone Central/Newman Grove never missed a beat. If anything, the Cardinals increased the tempo.
Boone Central/Newman Grove’s first three games were almost like a mini-season in itself, as the preseason C1 #3 Cardinals faced both #2 Pierce and #1 Norfolk Catholic. BCNG warmed up by manhandling West Point-Beemer 43-0 in the season opener, Mazour returning the season’s first kickoff 93 yards for a touchdown.
The Cardinals then stunned a proud Pierce program, 48-7. It could be considered Mazour’s “coming-out party” as a quarterback, as he connected on 15-of-20 passes for 202 yards and a touchdown, and rushed for 111 yards and two more TDs. Oh, just for good measure, he returned an interception 101 yards for a fourth score. Following the game, the News commented, “After his long third-quarter sprint with the interception, Mazour had to be carried from the field with cramps in his legs. Pierce fans were likely feeling the same type of pain in the pits of their stomachs.”
There would be a lot of Pepto-Bismol sales around northeast and north central Nebraska over the next two seasons.
Boone Central/Newman Grove backed up their early statement the following Friday, traveling to Norfolk and knocking off top-ranked and three-time defending state champion Norfolk Catholic 28-22. Johnson exclaimed after the contest, “What an exciting game on a near-perfect night for football!”
For the second week in a row, it was Mazour leaving a foe befuddled. The News described the elusive junior as a “whirling dervish” who rushed for 185 yards and two touchdowns, passed for 97 more, and returned three kickoffs for 118 yards. The Cardinal offensive line paved the way for 309 rushing yards, as Joe and Matt Brugger combined for 121, and BCNG’s defense held Catholic to less than 300 total yards while forcing three turnovers.
Still, the proud Knights did not fall easily. Catholic tied the score on a halfback pass and two-point conversion in the fourth quarter, which set up what the News called, “the biggest play in a game full of big plays. With Boone Central/Newman Grove facing second-and-seven at its own 20-yard line, the Card quarterback saw a hole on the left side of the Catholic defense, weaved through several defenders and took flight, fighting off tackle attempts in the final 15 yards of a 79-yard jaunt that carried to the Knight one-yard line.” Mazour plunged into the end zone on the following play with 4:22 to play and BCNG stopped two subsequent Catholic possessions, Zac Glidden intercepting a pass at midfield with :22 remaining.
Another dandy in one of Class C1’s best rivalry series.
The new C1 #1 team continued to roll from there in one of the most dominant regular seasons in Cardinal annals. After a bye week, Boone Central/Newman Grove scored 35 straight points to thump Scotus 35-14, then debuted its sparkling new $2M football field and athletic complex with a 49-20 romp over David City. Mazour was a highlight reel again, returning a pair of kickoffs for 129 yards (including a 94-yard TD), rushing for 101 yards and two touchdowns on just 12 carries, and completing 16-of-19 passes for 177 yards and two scores. A mere 407 all-purpose yards with five touchdowns … yeah, not bad.
Boone Central/Newman Grove scored 42 points in the first half of a 42-0 victory over Madison, then prepared for its biggest “test” since the Norfolk Catholic contest.
If it was a test, the Cardinals aced it, blitzing Lakeview 48-21 with a performance even more impressive than the final score indicates. BCNG forced a running clock in the second half (35 point lead) and held a 48-0 advantage with 3:15 remaining in the third quarter. It was just basic all-around dominance – offense, defense, special teams – until the Cards subbed liberally in the final period. “It’s nice to know we can do a number of things to move the ball. And our defense did a fantastic job of limiting Lakeview’s big-play potential,” Johnson noted.
Lakeview likely wasn’t in the mood to see Boone Central/Newman Grove again any time soon. After all, two of the school’s best teams, both ranked in C1’s top five, dispatched by a cumulative score of 83-28 in 2012/2013.
BCNG wrapped up an 8-0 regular season by thrashing G.I. Central Catholic 35-7. After a sluggish start, a goal line stand with the Cardinals trailing 7-6 late in the second period seemed to ignite the explosive offense. Mazour hit Pierce Koch with passes of 56 and 55 yards, along with a 29 yard strike to Koch and another 28 yard completion to tight end Garrett Temme. Matt Brugger ripped off runs of 31 and 43 yards. Joe Brugger ran for a 23 yard touchdown. Mazour reeled off runs of 31, 34 and 17. Ten plays that accounted for 347 of BCNG’s 486 total yards. Mazour ho-hummed his way to 213 yards through the air (9-of-16) and 123 on the ground, while Koch hauled in five receptions for 150 yards.
No Mazour? No problem?
Card fans probably would never have considered that equation, but BCNG hammered visiting Valentine in the opening round of the playoffs with #20 missing the contest due to a hamstring injury. Four additional starters were also out, but soph Kyle Kramer stepped up to complete 9-of-13 passes and threw two TDs while the BCNG defense bottled up Valentine, helping the Cards to a 202-31 advantage in rushing yardage.
Boone Central/Newman Grove then had its first, true until-the-final-whistle-challenge since defeating Norfolk Catholic. The News stated, “the stars were out in Albion,” as BCNG defeated Kearney Catholic 35-28 on a frigid November night. Not just the Stars (Kearney Catholic’s nickname), but playmakers on both sides. Catholic standout Thomas Connelly rushed for 199 yards in 19 carries, including an 81-yard touchdown sprint that ignited a Stars rally from a 21-7 halftime deficit. Connelly then switched to a ‘Wildcat QB’ position and directed Catholic’s game-tieing 53 yard drive during which he completed a 32 yard pass.
As good as Connelly was, he was upstaged by BCNG’s own dynamic duo. Mazour and senior Derek Gentrup both watched the win over Valentine from the sideline – and Kearney Catholic surely wished the pair was still there. Appearing quite healthy, Mazour passed for 270 yards (20-of-34) and rushed for 225 (27 carries) while participating in all five Cardinal touchdowns. Following Connelly’s heroics, he responded by leading a 60 yard TD drive with runs of 20 and 13 yards and completions of 16 and 14 to Gentrup, scoring the go-ahead touchdown on a three-yard run. After a Kearney Catholic punt, Mazour then dashed through the Stars defense for an electrifying 48 yard TD to put the Cardinals in front 35-21 with 6:17 to play.
The News recounted, “Gentrup must have seemed like some type of ethereal ghost to Kearney Catholic defenders, as hard to grasp as the wisps of player’s breaths that plumed in the chill night air.” The senior all-state candidate went through, by and around Stars to catch 12 passes for 169 yards, and also made one of the biggest defensive plays of the night by intercepting a John Masker pass at the Cardinal three-yard line, halting another Catholic threat during its third-period resurgence. Kearney Catholic had one final possession, with :56 remaining, but Masker was sacked on third and fourth-down plays to seal the win. Johnson acknowledged the dogged fight of the Stars, “They pushed us. They believed they were going to beat us. I think we’ve played some teams this year that said, ‘Oh no, we have to play Boone Central/Newman Grove,’ But not these guys.”
Speaking of Catholic and challenges, what would a Cardinal title quest be without going through familiar foe Norfolk Catholic? The Cardinals officially ended the Knights’ three-year reign atop Class C1 with a 34-16 quarterfinal victory. Mazour rushed for 156 yards and passed for 160, also intercepting two Catholic pass attempts. “He’s pretty good, isn’t he?” Johnson said to reporters. But the Card coach also added, “We have other kids that help him out. We have a team where you can’t just key on (Mazour), because we have other people who can get things done.” Norfolk Catholic coach Jeff Bellar told media, “I think they’re awful good, I guess we’ll see who can beat them, if anyone can.”
The state semifinal was an anticipated matchup of 11-0 teams, BCNG at Cozad, where, finally, an opponent found the Cardinals’ achilles heel – well, ankle that is.
The Haymkers also had an array of playmakers who literally threw haymakers at Boone Central/Newman Grove all night. A 47 yard TD bolt that broke a scoreless tie in the second quarter. A 33 yard pass completion that set up a touchdown and 14-0 halftime lead. A 37 yard scoring run that answered BCNG’s only touchdown. A 48 yard scoring bomb that continued to widen the point gap.
Amidst Cozad’s offensive onslaught was the dreaded sight of Mazour limping to the huddle after a second-quarter carry, his ankle having been stepped on. It robbed the junior dynamo’s mobility for the remainder of the contest, and with it Boone Central/Newman Grove’s biggest threat. “There were games he’d get almost 500 yards of offense, running and passing. Those times where he usually makes people miss weren’t quite there,” Johnson said later.
With a healthy Mazour, would BCNG have been able to go blow-for-blow in a high-scoring classic? No way to ever know. The reality was an absolutely terrific season ending one step short of Memorial Stadium and the state championship game. An 11-1 season that was just really, really good.
Eight Cardinals would be awarded All-District honors – seniors Gentrup, Tyler Hedlund, Koch, Kody Sock, Alex Wiese and Austin Zoucha, and juniors Mazour and Michael Lipker. Mazour and Gentrup were All-State selections in the Omaha World-Herald and Lincoln Journal-Star, and joined in Huskerland Prep by Wiese.
Getting It Done
Football fans in Nebraska remember 1994 and the Huskers’ ‘Unfinished Business’ team that won Tom Osborne’s first national championship.
Boone Central/Newman Grove didn’t plagarize that slogan, but the similarity of the Cardinals’ 2014 campaign was striking. All Cardinal fans know the story. After coming up just short the previous season, Boone Central/Newman Grove delivered Arnie Johnson’s second state championship in his final year as head coach at Albion and Boone Central.
The Albion News fall sports preview headline said it all – “Cardinal gridders load up for another run at C1 title.”
While loaded with talent and 17 lettermen, Boone Central did again have a number of starters to replace in 2014 – seven offensive and five defensive. But, when you have Wyatt Mazour at the helm, a cupboard full of young talent and a staff led by the most successful coach in school history, there’s every reason to believe success will follow. “We should be much better at the end compared to the beginning of the season,” Johnson stated. As opponents, who watched that beginning, gulped.
BCNG defeated Scotus 31-14 in the season opener despite some turnover issues. Mazour, who had passed and run for 2,865 yards as a junior (3,443 including kick returns), showed again that he was quite possibly the most explosive talent in Class C1 with 171 yards rushing, 244 passing and 110 on returns (to save you the math, that’s 525 all-purpose yards and, oh yeah, four touchdowns).
Scotus coach Tyler Linder said after the game, “Mazour is a phenomenal player. He’s as elusive a back as I’ve ever seen. Keeping him under wraps is a game plan in itself.” Following a 43-16 battering of Lakeview the next week, Viking coach Kurt Frenzen chimed in, “I’m totally sold that he’s the best player in our class. He’s one of the better players in the state.”
Boone Central/Newman Grove then blew past North Bend Central 48-8 with trademark big plays, scoring touchdowns from 63, 52, 25, 47 and 50 yards. There was a feeling G.I. Central Catholic might provide a sterner test, but BCNG ran up a 49-3 lead on its way to a 49-18 victory. The following week, the Cardinals seemed almost plodding in comparison, scoring a 30-6 win over West Point-Beemer that left Johnson less than satisfied, “This game was not one of our best performances. As a team, we were not very sharp in most areas of the game.”
Put on notice, Boone Central/Newman Grove blitzed #9 Pierce 49-21 with another display of breath-taking big play capability. Mazour, Joe Brugger and Zac Glidden reflected that ability. Mazour rushed for 200 yards, passed for 196 and had a hand in six touchdowns. Brugger gained 146 yards and the News said Glidden, “was simply all over the field – blocking a punt, intercepting a Bluejay pass, catching a touchdown and contributing several solo tackles.”
The following week, the News game report began, “The Boone Central/Newman Grove football team rolled over host Madison 34-0 Friday night – wait, that was only the first quarter!” Indeed, the Cards ran up a 61-7 third-quarter lead and slayed the Dragons 61-22. Wayne was the next ‘sacrificial lamb,’ falling 41-0 as Mazour dashed for TDs of 31 and 77 yards, connected with Travis Kennedy for a 77 yard touchdown and returned an interception for a score.
That set the stage for another chapter of the Cardinal/Knight rivalry series. The teams could each be 0-8 and it would be considered a “big game.” When they are ranked #1 and #3 in the final game of the season, with a district title on the line and state championship aspirations, it’s a very big game.
In 2014, when there was a “big game,” Boone Central/Newman Grove showed up in a big way. The Cardinals defeated Catholic 32-16 after trailing 16-12 early in the second half. Glidden made a diving touchdown catch to put BCNG ahead 19-16, and Mazour ran for a short TD after hitting Kramer with a 36 yard completion. Leading 26-16, BCNG took possession at its own one-yard line after a David Engelhaupt punt and churned out a 99-yard scoring drive highlighted by Mazour’s 67 yard connection with Scott Ketteler. Joe Brugger toted the final yard with just :13 to play. After the game, Johnson said, “We were a confident football team, but now I think we’re even more confident.”
Class C1 shuddered.
Boone Central/Newman Grove hammered Milford/Dorchester 48-7 in the first round of playoff action, then prepared for a rematch with their old “friends” from Norfolk Catholic. There’s a reason Norfolk Catholic was an annual C1 title contender that had recently become the first school in the class to win three straight state championships. Not only were the Knights blessed with talent from a large population base, they were well-coached and always prepared. Jeff Bellar and staff, after seeing the Cardinals two weeks earlier, formulated a game plan to make the second meeting a tough one.
Catholic trimmed a 17-6 deficit to 17-14 and kicked a field goal to pull within a touchdown, 23-17, in the fourth quarter. The News described BCNG’s answer to the latter as quite possibly the Cardinals’ “Play of the Year.”
Nursing the six-point lead with 6:13 to play and directly facing a blistering north wind that had affected play throughout the night, the Cardinals had a fourth-and-10 at their own 27-yard line. Easy call, right? Punt the ball. Well, maybe not so easy when your last punt into the wind traveled all of four yards. To the astonishment of many, Johnson did what he had done for two years – turn to senior All-State quarterback Wyatt Mazour.
“Our special-teams coach sent the punt team out. They were in the process of going out and I was thinking, ‘Why the heck do we punt? Last time we punted, we punted for almost zero yards.’ I just thought, ‘Put the ball in Wyatt’s hands and see what happens.”
Gutsy, for sure. And correct.
As the News reported, “Mazour rolled to his right, rolled some more to buy time for his receivers, then fired a dart through the wind to the waiting hands of junior Keaton Henry, who made the catch, withstood a hit from a Catholic defender attempting to jar the ball loose, and fought to midfield to complete a 23 yard gain.” From there, BCNG continued to march, grinding its way downfield with 14 straight running plays – the final seven by Mazour. The Cardinals converted three more fourth-and-short situations and ran out the clock to seal the win.
“Our last drive was amazing. A lot of fans probably thought the fourth-and-ten call was hard to make, but it was harder for the players to execute. We have a lot of talent on the field,” Johnson commented after the win.
Yes, a lot of talent that was not to be denied this time. The Cardinals faced Kearney Catholic again in the semifinal and rolled to a 34-7 victory. Kennedy’s 39 yard interception and return broke an early 7-7 deadlock and Mazour once again provided the game changer, dashing 89 yards with the second half kickoff to put BCNG up 19-7.
Time to finish business.
Boone Central/Newman Grove and Ashland-Greenwood prepared for what appeared to be a dream matchup in Lincoln for the C1 championship – #1 vs. #2, 24 victories, nary a loss. Recipe for a classic, right?
It actually would be an emphatic statement by the Boone Central/Newman Grove Cardinals, stamping themselves as one of C1’s all-time best with an overwhelming 54-14 victory in Johnson’s final game. This contest was highlighted in the Most Memorable Cardinal Games series, providing further details in the April 22 edition of the Albion News and at albionnewsonline.com.
In this recap, I’ll leave you with the words of Johnson, “This game story began about a year ago when we lost to Cozad. The team took a negative and turned it into positive motivation for this year. This win is for our program, and many from past years played a part in the type of team we were this year. I was pleased our players were able to showcase their talent in Lincoln. As I was talking to reporters, it was evident we turned some heads. There were a lot of wows from them when talking about our team after the game.”
No one elicited wows any better than #20, Wyatt Mazour, who embodied the talent, desire, commitment and drive of a splendid team. Mazour capped his incredible high school career with 248 yards rushing, 129 passing (9-of-13), and sapped Ashland-Greenwood’s will with an 83-yard punt return highlight in the third period. Yeah, wow … again.
Mazour, Joe Brugger, Glidden, Kennedy, Henry and Lipker were C1-3 All-District 1st team selections, with Colton Pelster, Temme, Kettler and Jacob Krings All-District 2nd team.
After rushing for 1,626 yards, passing for 1,869, adding 485 yards on kick returns and 138 on punt returns, and scoring 54 total touchdowns, Mazour was rightfully honnored as the Nebraska All-Class 1st Team quarterback. He led the biggest All-State haul in Cardinal history, with Glidden, Lipker, Kennedy and Henry all earning Class C1 1st Team honors.
Just an amazing fall of football. The greatest season in Cardinal history? Who can say for sure. Prior to the advent of state playoffs, Albion fielded a number of outstanding undefeated teams that accomplished all that they could – winning every game. The 2001 Boone Central team will always have its own niche in school history as the first – the very first! – official playoff state championship team. I’ve had the pleasure, since 1968, of watching a number of outstanding Cardinal teams – and playing on one.
There have been great players, great teams, great seasons, all memorable. But, having had a sideline view of the 2014 season, if someone wants to posit that it was the best in Cardinal football history, well, I won’t put up an argument.
We’ll just leave it at that.
(Next week, our final installment of the Cardinal Football History series, 2015-2019, ‘Carrying On.’)