As the season progressed, the suspense in Class C-2 came down to which team would be there at the end to meet Fremont Bergan.
It’s Norfolk Catholic, which has the most state championships in any class.
“We just matured as a defense,” said Jeff Bellar, who’s coached the last nine of Norfolk Catholic’s 10 title teams. “That really helped us in that we had a lot of close games this year. We’re not a dominant team in terms of the teams we played.”
Bellar’s hope is that the experience of coming out with the win in those close games is in play against Bergan in Tuesday’s 2:45 p.m. C-2 final at Memorial Stadium.
Top-ranked Bergan (12-0) takes a 35-point scoring margin into the final. Like No. 2 Catholic (11-1), it won rematches in the first two rounds of the playoffs before taking decisive wins in the semifinals.
Bergan beat Ord 20-0 a year after the Chanticleers had beat the Knights 28-7 in the 2020 final.
“We’ve just gotten more psychologically and physically tougher the past few weeks,” Bergan coach Seth Mruz said. “We were already those things before, but I think we’re doing it at a championship level now.
“They know what it takes, after being so close last year, and I think they’re just looking to make sure they don’t fall short this year.”
Bergan has the team speed that Norfolk Catholic enjoyed when it won Class C-1 in 2017 and lost in overtime the next year in the C-2 final. It starts with Koa McIntyre at quarterback and his brother Kade at wide receiver.
“That keeps me awake at night,” Bellar said. “When you have tremendous speed, you really put the pressure on the opponent. They have a couple guys, really more than a couple, who can really run. It’s a challenge to the defense because some of those things you can’t replicate in practice because you don’t have guys who can run like they do.”
Karter Kerkman has stepped up at running back for Norfolk Catholic. The junior has ground out 1,696 yards and 22 touchdowns on 226 carries.
“They’re going to run the ball and they should. They have a lot of horses up front,” Mruz said. “Kerkman’s a good back. They’re not your stereotypical big linemen. They’re just all long and athletic and they move well. They have long arms, they get good push.
“We’ll have to be able to stop the run and be able to establish our run game.”