LUSK – Temperatures were in the low 20s at kickoff last Friday on Gibson Field at Fullmer Stadium and plunged to near single digits by the final gun. Despite the frigid conditions, Niobrara County High School clinched the number two seed from the East Conference for the upcoming playoffs.
Lusk will host Greybull on Friday evening at 5 p.m. in their first playoff game since the 2014 season. The Tigers defeated the Buffs in a scrimmage earlier this season, but that was two months ago, and a lot has changed since then. Parking spots are no longer reserved, and admission prices will be charged, per the WHSAA guidelines.
Saratoga served notice quickly they were in for the challenge with a 59-yard touchdown pass from Teegan Love to Noah Rimmer just 59 seconds into the contest. The two hooked up again on the conversion and led 8-0.
The Tigers responded with their own score minutes later as Drake Lamp ran in from five yards away. Jasper Caldera got the extra carry to knot the game at eight. Aric Eaton intercepted a Love pass deep in Tiger territory, so Lusk marched downfield and capitalized on Lamp’s 35-yard touchdown. Caldera finished it off with the conversion and NCHS led 16-8 after one.
The Panthers came back with Love and Rimmer on a 20-yard touchdown play yet denied on the conversion and trailing 16-14. Once again, the Tigers moved downfield and got into the endzone with Dylan Molzahn’s 6-yard touchdown run. Lamp’s conversion moved the Lusk lead to 24-14 with three minutes before a warm halftime session. Aiden Applegarth halted the final Panther attempt with an interception and nice return near midfield.
Lamp scored from six yards and Caldera plunged in for the conversion to open the second half for the Tigers. Another Tiger touchdown came nearing the third period’s end, this time as Walker Kupke kept the ball from one yard out and Lamp’s conversion moved it to 40-14.
Love and Rimmer answered with an inexplicable 69-yard scoring pass. Love was almost out of room and heaved a pass downfield, where after a tip Rimmer hauled it in and went to the endzone. Heston Fisher caught Love’s conversion pass to cut the lead to 40-22. As the Panthers tried to come back, Applegarth stepped in front of another Love pass. This one came in the endzone as the third quarter expired.
Both teams had had enough of the miserable cold as the Tigers put the finishing touches on with another Lamp touchdown. This one came from one yard away and Kupke to Mason Wells put the lid on the 48-22 win.
“I was very pleased with our defense. Aiden came up with a couple of big interceptions,” said Head Coach Ryan Nelson. “The boys are excited to be back in the playoffs, and like I told them, anything can happen now.”
SCORE BY QUARTERS
SHS. 8 6 8 0 – 22
NCHS 16 8 16 8 – 48
SARATOGA: Passing – 8 comp/24 attempts, 215 yds, 3 TD, 3 INT. Rushing – 23 attempts/190 yards. Receiving – 8 catches/215 yards, 3 TDs. 12 First downs. 4 penalties/30 yards. 3 turnovers.
NCHS: Rushing – 66 attempts/487 yards. 22 First downs. 3 penalties/15 yards.
NCHS PLAYER STATS: Rushing – Lamp 28 attempts/231 yards, 4 TDs; Caldera 16/80; Molzahn 13/106, TD; Applegarth 6/78; Kupke 3/-8, TD. Defensive points – Molzahn 22; Applegarth 19; Dayne Lamp 15; Eaton 12; Riley Blackburn 7; Jayce Cummins 5; Wells 5; Caldera 5; Stanton Ricketts 2; Colton Coffman 1; Collin Taylor 1; Miles Ashurst 1.