ASHLAND, Neb. — Around these parts, Ashland-Greenwood’s final possession Tuesday night probably will be known simply as “the drive.”
The Bluejays marched 80 yards into a stiff wind to score the go-ahead touchdown with 16 seconds left to rally for a 33-28 win over Columbus Lakeview in a Class C-1 semifinal. Ashland-Greenwood (11-1) will seek its first state title next Tuesday against Cozad at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln.
“It’s a testament to the guys on our team,” Bluejays coach Ryan Thompson said. “It’s unbelievable what they’ve been able to accomplish this season, because they just refuse to lay down and die.”
The Bluejays’ first trip to the final appeared to be in serious doubt when Lakeview running back Mark Jarecki scored on a 13-yard run with 4:03 left. That touchdown, which came two plays after an interception by Jack Shadley, and the extra point by place-kicker Austin Urkoski put the Vikings ahead 28-27.
Ashland-Greenwood senior quarterback Gunnar Garner shook off that interception and went right back to work. Starting at their own 20, the Bluejays mixed run and pass to move down the field.
Garner completed a pair of third-and-long passes to keep the drive alive, and a 15-yard completion to freshman running back Trevor Nichelson moved the ball to the Lakeview 35. The Vikings’ defense stiffened and the Bluejays faced fourth-and-15 from the Lakeview 40 in the final minute.
Enter sophomore wide receiver Ben Stille, who had kicked a pair of long field goals in the first half. He caught a pass from Garner and turned it into a 27-yard gain, setting up the Bluejays at the Lakeview 13 with 25 seconds left.
One play later, Garner connected with Stille in the end zone to send the Ashland-Greenwood fans into a frenzy. The Bluejays failed on the two-point conversion, but led by five with 16 seconds left.
“Ben made a couple of amazing plays,” Garner said. “He did a great job to go up and make those catches.”
Stille said the team originally had a different play called on the long fourth-down conversion but switched it up when Lakeview changed its coverage.
“Gunnar threw it in a perfect spot,” Stille said. “Then we ran the same play for the touchdown and he put it right on my back shoulder.”
The 9-3 Vikings still had an outside chance after Jarecki returned the ensuing kickoff to the Bluejays 45. But after an incompletion, Jarecki caught a pass that yielded just 14 yards as time ran out.
“Man, this is a good feeling,” Thompson said. “Nothing fazes this team, and I can’t be more proud of them.”
Thompson was so happy that he hurt himself celebrating after the game. He raced over and climbed a small wall to wave at the Ashland-Greenwood fans, but injured his knee after he hopped back down.
“I think I’m going to have to see the trainer,” he said. “This hurts, but winning the game helps it hurt a lot less.”
It didn’t look good for the Bluejays early as Lakeview raced to a 14-0 lead. Ethan Scheffler caught a 10-yard touchdown pass from Shadley and Urkoski scored on a 4-yard run.
Nichelson scored on a 2-yard run with one minute left in the first half, and added his second TD midway through the third quarter on a 1-yard plunge. Stille gave the Bluejays their first lead at 17-14 by nailing a 43-yard field goal. He added a 40-yarder less than two minutes later after an interception by Bo Kitrell.
Lakeview reclaimed the lead on its next possession when fullback Turner Condreay caught a tipped pass over the middle and raced 56 yards for the score. Urkoski added the extra point and the Bluejays trailed by a point entering the fourth quarter.
Ashland-Greenwood kept its next drive alive by gaining three yards on a fake punt at its own 39, and then used some razzle-dazzle on a 41-yard pass play when running back Bryce Chudomelka connected with split end Cory Washburn. Nichelson then scored his third TD, this time on a 31-yard run.
Jarecki’s touchdown five minutes later set the stage for the Bluejays’ late heroics.
“This one hurts, and I feel terrible for our kids,” Lakeview coach Kurt Frenzen said. “Give Ashland credit because they made the big plays at the end.”
Stille, who caught the game-winning TD pass, said the victory was one he’ll never forget.
“It seems like the whole town is here tonight,” he said. “And now we get a chance to play for the title.”
Columbus Lakeview .......... 14 0 7 7—28
At Ashland-Greenwood .... 0 7 13 13—33
CL: Ethan Scheffler 10 pass from Jack Shadley (Austin Urkoski kick)
CL: Urkoski 4 run (Urkoski kick)
AG: Trevor Nichelson 2 run (Stille kick)
AG: Nichelson 1 run (Stille kick)
AG: FG Stille 32
AG: FG Stille 40
CL: Turner Condreay 56 pass from Shadley (Urkoski kick)
AG: Nichelson 31 run (Stille kick)
CL: Mark Jarecki 13 run (Urkoski kick)
AG: Stille 13 pass from Garner (pass failed)
RUSHING: CL, Mark Jarecki 16-61, Evan Dewald 5-22, Jack Shadley 9-5, Austin Urkoski 2-9. AG, Gunnar Garner 29-93, Trevor Nichelsen 16-64, Bo Kitrell 2-2.
PASSING: CL, Shadley 9-18-1 168. AG Garner 10-22-1 134; Bryce Chudomelka 1-1-0 41.
RECEIVING: Turner Condreay 1-56, Ethan Scheffler 3-42, Urkoski 3-26, Hayden Holmberg 1-30, Jarecki 1-14. AG, Nichelson 2-25, Tyler Craven 4-36, Chudomelka 2-33, Cory Washburn 1-41, Ben Stille 2-40.