LINCOLN--It was a made for television special: No. 1 Howells against No. 2 Sargent. Both teams came into the 2011 NSAA Class D2 State Championship undefeated with identical 12-0 records.
Howells was looking to win title number 10.
Sargent wanted to remove the disappointing feeling after being blown out by this same Howells team just one year ago.
The Bulldogs did just that and dropped Howells 21-18 and in the process ended Howells’ 34-game win streak.
With Nebraska’s Memorial Stadium as the backdrop and a gentle fall breeze circulating the masses, it felt like this battle between two eight-man football powerhouses would be special, and it sure was.
Howells opened the game on offense and quickly discovered this was a different Sargent football team from last year. The Bulldogs used a stout run defense to force a three-and-out.
Howells was forced to punt and the Bulldogs started their opening drive on their own 34-yard line.
The Bobcats stuffed the Bulldogs two plays in a row and left Sargent looking at a third down and 10. On the next play, Sargent quarterback Guy Fenske looked to pass but there was a gaping hole in the middle of the Howells defense and Fenske charged up the middle and into Howells territory.
Howells stifled the Sargent offense and forced a fourth down and four. Guy Fenske then connected with Tyke Kozeal on a 10-yard pass for a new set of downs.
Sargent would find the end zone on the next play when Jed Fenske took the handoff and slipped through the Howells defense for a 14-yard touchdown run. Jed Fenske converted the two-point conversion and Sargent led early 8-0.
The Sargent defense didn’t let up on Howells’ second drive. The Bulldogs took a bite out of the Bobcats and forced Howells to a three-and-out, forcing them to punt again.
The Bulldogs started at their own 29-yard line and drove to the Howells 10-yard line in just three plays. However, Kozeal fumbled the ball and Howells was back in business.
The Sargent defense was up to the task and forced a three-and-out.
Howells punted and the Bulldogs started their drive at their own 36-yard line. Howells forced Sargent into a third down and 11. Guy Fenske found Kozeal on a 22-yard screen pass for the first down. Sargent scored on the next play when Jed Fenske rushed up the middle for a 17-yard touchdown. The two-point attempt was unsuccessful. After one quarter of action, Sargent led 14-0.
Howells took the ball at their 22-yard line and drove methodically down the field to the Sargent one-yard line. On third-down and goal, Sargent’s Tanner Balfour gave his defense a huge lift by forcing and recovering a fumble.
Sargent wasn’t able to move the ball and was forced to punt.
Howells rushed 10 straight times to the Sargent one-yard line. This time Howells capitalized when Mitch Belina scored on a one-yard plunge. The two-point attempt was smothered by the Sargent defense and the Bulldogs were still on top 14-6.
Sargent started their next possession just outside of Howells territory at their 32-yard line and drove to the Howells 22-yard line.
After being stuffed on first and second down, the Bulldogs were staring at a third down and 15.
Guy Fenske took the snap in the shotgun formation, evaded pressure and threw a dart to Jed Fenske for a 22-yard touchdown pass. Kozeal added the extra-point and Sargent led 21-6.
However, Howells didn’t plan on ending the first-half quite yet. Howells drove all the way to the Sargent four-yard line behind a 36-yard pass and catch from Belina to Brady Bester.
The Bulldog defense had their backs to the wall but stopped the Bobcats on third and goal as time expired and preserved a 21-6 halftime lead.
Sargent opened the second half with the ball, but Howells would take the ball back when Tyler Viers fumbled the kickoff return inside the Sargent 25-yard line.
However, the Bulldog defense held their ground and stopped the Bobcats on fourth down and seven from the Sargent 23-yard line..
Sargent wasn’t able to muster any offense and was forced to punt.
Howells started their next possession on their own 32-yard line and drove down to the Sargent one-yard line.
From there Howells added the touchdown when Trent Mastny ran up the middle for the touchdown. The two-point attempt was snuffed out by the Sargent defense and the Bulldogs led 21-12. On Sargent’s next possession the Howells defense stood strong, forcing Sargent to a three-and-out.
Brent Mauler booted a 49-yard punt and the Bulldogs downed the ball at the Bobcats two-yard line.
The Bulldog defense stood tough and forced Howells to punt after a three-and-out. However, disaster would strike for the Bulldogs. Kirby Pomplun fielded the punt and had the ball stripped by Belina at the Howells 25-yard line.
The Bobcats capitalized and marched on a 12 play drive that lasted 5:29 to the Sargent five-yard line. Mastny rushed for a five-yard touchdown. The Bulldog defense stopped the two-point attempt. Sargent was clinging by a thread, 21-18.
Sargent took the ball on their own 25-yard line and marched on a 12-play, 40-yard drive to the Howells 15-yard line. Sargent attempted to burn time off the clock, but Howells stuffed Kozeal on fourth and inches forcing Sargent to turn the ball over.
The Bobcats then went into hurry-up mode. Belina connected with Bayer over the middle for a 31-yard gain to the Sargent 20-yard line.
Howells then went for the kill shot but it failed. Belina lofted a pass to the corner of the end zone that was intended for Bayer, but it was underthrown and Pomplun intercepted the pass.
Sargent took the ball over and needed to burn the last 1:38 in the game. Howells prevented the Bulldogs from ending the game with a first down and forced Sargent to punt. Mauler then blasted a 56-yard punt inside the Howells 10-yard line.
With 31 seconds left in the game, Howells threw deep on first down and it was intercepted by Viers and, in the process, sealed the game for the Bulldogs.
Sargent Head Coach Mike Kozeal was at a loss for words to describe the last-second stand and win by his team.
“It’s just amazing. I love these kids. When we broke fall camp our goal was to beat Howells and win the state championship,” Kozeal said as he wiped a tear from his eye. “This is just a great way for Sargent football to go out. We had unfinished business from last year.”
Sargent’s Jed Fenske was proud how his teammates hung in to the very end and didn’t give up.
“We had our backs against the wall. Give Howells credit, they know how to win and they’ve proven to do it on a consistent basis,” Fenske said. “But this (Sargent) group of seniors showed great leadership. We fought to the very end and now we’ll be forever known as state champions.”
“Give Sargent a lot of credit,” Howells coach Mike Speirs said. “They threw some different things at us that we didn’t see on tape and that was hard to adjust to in the first half.”
This was the last game for the Sargent Bulldogs and for the Howells Bobcats.
Both teams will coop next year. Sargent is in the process of combining sports with Loup County and Howells will combine with Dodge starting next fall.
Jed Fenske led all rushers with 95 yards on 18 carries. Fenske also scored two touchdowns. Guy Fenske had a great day through the air. He passed for 105 yards on eight of 12 passing and one touchdown.
Jed Fenske led Sargent with nine solo tackles and 12 assisted for a total of 21. Guy Fenske had six solo tackles and 11 assisted for a total of 17. Kozeal chipped in with four solo stops and 10 assisted for a total of 14 stops. Tanner Balfour contributed five solo stops and four assisted tackles and a sack.