COZAD — Two third-quarter goal line stands by the Gothenburg defense came up big as the 5-4 and No. 13 seeded Swedes held the 6-3 No. 4 seeded Cozad Haymakers scoreless in a 23-0 win in the opening round of the C1 State Playoff.
“That was huge, that was huge,” said Gothenburg coach Craig Haake. “They drove down there a couple times and then we gave them a short field. The defense came up and made stops.
“Coach [Tom] Scott has people going every which direction and it’s tough to get a read on him. He has a good scheme and the kids believe in him and they fly to the ball.”
Gothenburg opened the game with a 13-play drive that ended in a missed 35-yard field goal attempt by Trent Long as the kick sailed to the left.
It didn’t take the Swedes long to get the ball again, as Skyler Kottwitz intercepted a Nate Buback pass, giving Gothenburg the ball on their own 42.
Once again, the Swedes drove to the Haymakers 5, but this time Long’s kick went wide right, keeping the game in a scoreless tie.
“It’s kind of common place for them,” Haake said of the Swedes missing a scoring opportunity. “Trent’s a great kicker. He’s got a leg on him and we have faith in him. We’ll come back to him again.”
Gothenburg held Cozad on there next possession and Connor Schwanz’ punt return to the Haymakers 36-yard line, set the Swedes up for their initial score.
Preston Franzen carried on three of the Swedes seven-play drive, taking the ball in from the 5 with 10 minutes, 01 second left in the second quarter. The PAT was no good.
Gothenburg was able to put three more points on the board before halftime, when Long was good from 34 yards out for the 9-0 lead heading into the locker room.
Cozad came out after half and seemed to be on a mission. Keri Blackler returned the second-half kickoff 22 yards to the Gothenburg 43. Jake Paulsen carried on six straight plays, taking the ball to the Swedes 5. But on fourth and goal, Paulsen was stopped on the 1.
The Swedes were held to a three-and-out, and once again the Haymakers were stopped short of the goal, as Paulsen was again stopped on fourth down.
“It took the wind out of our sails,” said Cozad coach Ron Bubak. “Even after the first time [they stopped us] we were still playing very well. Then once they stopped us the second time, the momentum [which they already had] really swung back to their side.
“We had some opportunities in the game, just didn’t score down near the goal line. We called what we thought were the best plays to get in the endzone. We just came up a yard or two short and their kids made some plays.”
And if the two goal-line stands didn’t take the air out of the Haymakers sails, the ensuing Gothenburg drive would.
After taking over the ball on downs at their own 3, Franzen took the ball on second down from the 4 and ran to the 40-yard line. A face mask penalty advanced the ball even further to the Cozad 44. Five plays later, Logan Sheets carried it in from the 15, and with the Long PAT, the Swedes led 16-0.
“That’s the way we play,” Haake said of his offensive lines physical play. “I’ve got an offensive line group that didn’t have a lot of experience coming back, but they’re rough-and-tumble kids and don’t mind mixing it up. At times they just play tougher than nails.”
Gothenburg did a good job of keeping the ball away from Cozad running back Jake Paulsen (on kicks and punts) and swarmed in his direction on running plays.
“They did that the first time also,” Bubak said. “We found some ways to back them up a bit and Jack found some holes. I thought we were doing that the second half but couldn’t get him in the endzone. They had a couple goal-line stands. If you get it in there you don’t know what happens in the ball game.”
Gothenburg found the endzone again in the fourth quarter on a 42-yard keeper by quarterback Blake Ristine.
“They outplayed us,” Bubak said. “They outplayed us up front so I’ve got to commend them.
“They are so well coached. Coach Haake does such a great job. We knew it wasn’t a great draw for us and the revenge factor and everything like that.
“Once they get the lead on you — and control the ball so well — the momentum gets away from you. And then they make those stands in the second half and that’s all she wrote.”
After the game, it was hard for Haake to compare this outcome with the results of the Haymakers 42-7 win in September.
“No, it was kind of a different outcome,” the coach said. “We knew if we could contain the big plays and we were able to move the ball on them. Tonight we did a much better job of finishing drives. We moved the ball last time we just couldn’t score.
“We’ve had trouble with that all year long — getting it in the endzone. We can move the ball.
“Defensively we didn’t give up any big plays. We tried to keep the ball away from Jake [Paulsen] on kickoffs. That was kind of big. And the kids just played their hearts out.”
Offensive statistics: Cozad rushing – Jake Paulsen, 25/112; Jacob Rush – 1/28; Colin Wetovick, 4/10. Gothenburg rushing – Preston Franzen, 18/113; Blake Ristine, 15/73; Logan Sheets, 11/50; Zach Wolf, 4/10. Cozad passing: Nate Bubak, 4/9-55. Gothenburg passing: Blake Ristine – 3/10-44. Cozad receiving – Jacob Rush, 2/30; Jake Paulsen, 1/13; Colin Wetovick, 1/12. Gothenburg receiving – Zach Wolf, 3/44.
Cozad team: rushing 147; passing 55; total 202. Gothenburg team: rushing 250; passing 44; total 294.
Cozad (6-3) ............................0 0 0 0 — 0
Gothenburg (5-4)..........................0 9 7 7 — 23
G: PrestonFranzen 5 run (PAT failed)
G: Trent Long 35 field goal
G: Logan Sheets 15 run (PAT by Long)
G: Blake Ristine 38 run (PAT by Long)