AURORA — Just when Class B No. 5-rated Aurora and No. 6 York appeared ready to complete a scoreless first half, the Dukes’ offense came alive.
After managing just 80 yards and three first downs over five possessions, quarterback Linden Kaliff directed York 89 yards over seven plays in 1:17 to give the Dukes a 6-0 halftime lead.
That offensive success carried over into the second half.
The Dukes ended up getting into the end zone on their final five possessions to post a 33-14 victory over the Huskies and claim a district championship.
"Early on in the game, we were able to move the ball a bit but we weren’t able to punch it in," York coach Glen Snodgrass said. "I think when we started establishing our passing game at the end of the first half and beginning of the second half, that’s when things started going well for us.
"Then when we established our passing game, they had to back their safeties off a little bit, and that’s when our running game came alive."
The teams combined for seven punts and four stops on fourth downs during a defensive first half. So it wouldn’t have been odd to expect York’s offense to not get far after taking over on its 11-yard line with 1:34 left before halftime.
But Kaliff, who was 4-for-9 for 61 yards passing up to that point, went 6-for-6 for 67 yards on the drive, including an 11-yard strike to JJ Schulz with 17 seconds remaining.
"It was a great momentum booster and confidence booster obviously going into halftime," Snodgrass said. "It’s probably my fault for not going to that type of game earlier.
"They were daring us the throw the ball, and I was a little too stubborn running it. Being able to stick it in right before the half was a big confidence booster for us."
The Dukes stuck to the air attack to convert on their first possession of the second half. Kaliff and Schulz connected for a 40-yard gain and then again for a 9-yard score to make it 13-0.
"Our coaches had a great game plan, and we had to put another player in the box to help stop the run," Aurora coach Randy Huebert said. "I thought we did a great job. They’ve just got good athletes. Eventually they’re going to make some plays.
"Kaliff made some great plays and extended some plays to make some great throws. (Running back Evan) Neville’s as good a back as we’ve seen this year as far as size, height, strength and speed. He’s got a lot of qualities that make him a good player."
Both offenses were impossible to stop in the third quarter. The teams traded a total of four touchdowns over a span of 6:45.
Tobey Huebert hauled in a 32-yard pass from Jake Kittle to set up Eli Bricker’s 1-yard touchdown plunge to bring the Huskies (7-2) within 13-7.
The Dukes (8-1) answered in two plays. Aurora got caught in a blitz during a screen to Neville that ended up as a 55-yard touchdown.
Aurora came right back. Luke Standage took over at quarterback after Kittle hurt his hand, and he threw a 10-yard pass to Jack Ziska to convert on third down.
On another third-down play, Brock Reichardt’s halfback pass to Colton Allen picked up 35 yards to the York 11-yard line, and Standage ran it in from 6 yards out to cut the lead to 20-14 with 3:00 left in the third.
"We just made some big plays," Randy Huebert said. "We had a good play-action pass to Tobey to set up a touchdown run by Bricker. Our quarterbacks made some key pass plays on the drives where we scored, and they ran the option well.
"I thought Brock Reichardt ran hard. We were just doing our stuff, making some plays and moving the football."
Neville took over from there. He picked up 90 of his 138 yards rushing in the fourth quarter, including a 20-yard score to push the lead to 26-14.
After Ryan Dolan picked off Standage, the Dukes ran 7:12 off the clock before Hayden Robb’s 2-yard touchdown with 43 seconds left.
"We kept fighting and moving the ball," Randy Huebert said. "We were in striking distance. They got a turnover and then we had a hard time stopping them the second half."
York’s win over Aurora was a rarity. How rare was up for debate.
"It’s been a long time," Snodgrass said. "A lot of people have been looking. It’s been so long ago, we can’t find it. It’s been many, many years — the ‘80s, I’m guessing."
The Dukes didn’t overplay the importance of this game.
"It really feels good and I’m so proud of these boys," Snodgrass said. "They worked so hard to earn a district championship. We kind of downplayed this game a little bit because we knew we’re in the playoffs next week, and that’s really the major game we need to be prepared for. I didn’t want this game to be the end-all be-all win or lose for these guys.
"That being said, to come over here against a great team like Aurora with the great tradition they have and this atmosphere and come out on top with a district title says a lot about the character of this team."
The loss shouldn’t hurt the Huskies when they also head into the playoffs next week, Randy Huebert said.
"Playoffs are a big part of our tradition over here," he said. "It’s an exciting time of the year. I think our kids will be fired up and ready."
York (8-1) 0 6 14 13—33
Aurora (7-2) 0 0 14 0—14
Y—Schulz 7 pass from Kaliff (run failed), 0:17.
Y—Schulz 9 pass from Kaliff (Dolan kick), 9:45.
A—Bricker 1 run (Bricker kick), 7:24.
Y—Neville 55 pass from Kaliff (Dolan kick), 6:29.
A—Standage 6 run (Bricker kick), 3:00.
Y—Neville 20 run (kick failed), 10:26.
Y—Robb 2 run (Dolan kick), 0:46.
First downs 23 12
Rushes-yards 36-159 40-157
Passing yards 288 109
Comp-Att-Int 18-26-0 5-14-2
Punts-avg 3-37.3 4-39.0
Punt returns 0-0 1-23
Kickoff returns 1-10 6-119
Penalties-yards 2-10 5-33
Fumbles-lost 0-0 0-0
RUSHING—Y, Neville 27-138, Robb 7-39, Kaliff 2-(minus 18). A, Richardt 20-98, Bricker 9-26, Kittle 7-24, Standaqge 3-10, Pohlmann 1-(minus 1).
PASSING—Y, Kaliff 18-26-0 288. A, Kittle 2-8-1 46, Reichardt 1-1-0 35, Standage 2-5-1 28.
RECEIVING—Y, Schulz 7-113, Dolan 5-58, Vanderheiden 3-38, Robb 2-24, Neville 1-55. A, Allen 2-53, Ziska 2-24, Huebert 1-32.