Top-ranked Gretna earned a hard-fought Class B football playoff victory Friday night to remain undefeated.
Unranked Sidney earned a large measure of respect in defeat.
Senior running back Travis Agagah scored on a 3-yard run with 35 seconds left as the host Dragons — seeking their first state title — pulled out a 24-17 win over the scrappy Red Raiders.
Gretna (11-0) advances to the semifinals next Friday while Sidney, making its first playoff appearance since 1994, finishes 7-4.
“They’re a great team,” Gretna coach Chad Jepsen said. “We saw on film that they were big and physical, and they gave us problems.”
The Red Raiders hung tough despite the 5 ½-hour bus ride and that the Dragons had them outnumbered on the sideline 66-39.
Nine Sidney players competed on both offense and defense, but the Red Raiders fought Gretna to the end.
“For the most part, our defense was outstanding,” Sidney coach Todd Ekart said. “We knew we were playing the top-ranked team and we came out like we had nothing to lose.”
That was apparent on the opening kickoff when the Red Raiders tried an onside kick. But the attempt by freshman Peyton Hill did not go the required 10 yards and Gretna took over at the Sidney 41.
Sidney’s defense stiffened, and Gretna kicker Jay Gilman’s 46-yard attempt was wide.
Gilman got another chance on Gretna’s next possession and banged it home from 29 yards out.
The score remained 3-0 until Lucas Rosenbaum tied the game for Sidney, booting a 21-yard field goal with 2:57 left in the second quarter.
The Dragons then marched 70 yards in seven plays to score the go-ahead touchdown with 1:11 left in the half. They used a little razzle-dazzle as wide receiver Michael Johnson hauled in a 27-yard touchdown pass from running back Connor Shedeed.
Gretna appeared poised to break open the game by driving 66 yards for a score on its opening possession of the second half. Fullback Brady Radik rumbled over from the 6 to give the Dragons a 17-3 lead.
Sidney battled back to score late in the third quarter on a scrambling play by junior quarterback Lane Harvey. A 5-foot-7, 155-pounder, Harvey avoided several tacklers before connecting with running back Chance Anglin on a 39-yard touchdown pass.
The Red Raiders then got a break early in the fourth quarter when a punt snap sailed over Gilman’s head. He chased the ball down and booted it out of his own end zone but Sidney took over at the Dragon 21.
After a run by Logan Lewis lost a yard, Harvey threw to Tyler Wintholz for a 22-yard touchdown. Rosenbaum’s extra point tied the game with 10:15 left.
The Sidney defense stepped up again with 3:31 left when Gretna went for it on fourth-and-2 from the Red Raiders’ 40. But Tyler Ballard gained just one yard, and the ball went over to Sidney.
With the capacity crowd of 2,000 anxiously looking on, Gretna’s defense made the big play that gave the Dragons a shot at the last-minute victory. Harvey’s first-down pass was picked off by senior defensive back Jeff Glassburner at the Sidney 43.
This time, the Dragons wouldn’t be denied. Seven rushing plays put the ball on the Sidney 3 before Agagah bulled into the end zone.
“We knew this game was going to be a dogfight,” Agagah said. “When we got the ball back, we knew we had to stay relaxed because we had time to get the job done.”
The run-oriented Red Raiders had little time left on the clock, and the game ended when defensive back Trent Jeary intercepted Harvey’s desperation heave on fourth down.
Gretna’s ability to contain Sidney’s running back duo of Lewis (1,977 yards entering the game) and Anglin (1,230 yards) was another key to victory. Lewis carried 22 times for 75 yards and Anglin rushed 15 times for 67.
“We’re still alive,” Agagah said. “We gave it all we had tonight.”
Sidney (7-4) .......................................... 0 3 7 7—17
At Gretna (11-0) .......................................... 3 6 8 7—24
G: FG Jay Gilman 29
S: FG Lucas Rosenbaum 21
G: Michael Johnson 27 pass from Connor Shedeed (kick failed)
G: Brady Radik 6 run (Nick Stoltenberg run)
S: Chance Anglin 39 pass from Lane Harvey (Rosenbaum kick)
S: Tyler Wintholz 22 pass from Harvey (Rosenbaum kick)
G: Travis Agagah 3 run (Gilman kick)
Rushing: S, Logan Lewis 22-75, Chance Anglin 15-67, Michael Deaver 2-4, Lane Harvey 4-0. G, Tyler Ballard 9-59, Travis Agagah 8-45, Connor Shedeed 9-53, Brady Radik 7-32, Nick Stoltenberg 7-25, Emmitt Knight 3-12, Allon Johnson 2-1.
Passing: S, Lane Harvey 6-13-2 97; Anglin 1-2-0 34. G, Stoltenberg 12-20-1 106; Shedeed 1-1-0 27.
Receiving: S, Lucas Rosenbaum 3-57, Anglin 2-44, Tyler Wintholz 1-22, Lewis 1-8. G, Derek Templeman 4-53, Michael Johnson 3-30, Gage Kirwan 1-14, Shedeed 3-13, Jordon Batenhorst 2-23.