As Blue Valley North junior Dylan Freberg sprinted up the track towards a mob of oncoming Mustangs, screaming fans jumping in jubilee, a handful of Blue Valley Northwest Huskies remained motionless in the end zone, emotionally spent and physically finished.
On Friday night, true playoff football returned to the 6A class and couldn’t have been welcomed in a better fashion than Blue Valley North’s epic 39-33, double overtime victory over rival Blue Valley Northwest.
After a pair of field goals kept the game tied after the initial overtime period, Blue Valley North head coach Andy Sims called a timeout with his offense facing a third and nine and another impressive regular season at risk of being overshadowed by postseason doom.
“You know, you’re on the 10-yard line and while it doesn’t take much to get it in from there, it can seem like an eternity,” said a joyous Sims on an empty field afterwards. “We were looking for a one-on-one match-up that we didn’t see and I knew I had the timeout to use, so I burned it and I think it put a little extra pressure on that defense.”
As his offense ran over to meet him at the sideline for what would become the game winning play call, Sims didn’t need to dig into his bag of tricks for, say, Boise State’s infamous ‘Statue of Liberty’ play (which he’d already ran once in the game as a matter of fact). Nope, Sims stuck with what worked and dug out an old favorite from his days at Central Missouri State.
“I’ve ran that play for a very long time,” chuckled the coach as he continued, referencing the game winner. “It goes back to when I played college football and our offensive coordinator would run it against us and I’ve hung on to it. We practice it just about every day in our two-minute drill.”
“That’s what you’ve got to do I think,” he continued. “You’ve got to give your kids a play that maybe to everyone else looks amazing but to them, they know it. It’s one they have confidence in.”
Executed to perfection, senior quarterback Cole Chapman rolled out to his right, drawing the Huskies defense with him, only to turn back to the opposite pylon and find the 6-foot-3 Freburg a few steps inside the end zone and headed towards the sideline. Lofting a pass from just past the ten-yard line, a leaping 6-foot-3 defensive back, Kordell Simmons, came within a fingertip of swatting the pass down to force a fourth-down before the ball gracefully landed in the tight end’s chest for the victory.
“They played their hearts out. I’m proud of how our guys handled everything this year,” a stunned Blue Valley Northwest head coach Mike Zeguins stated. “We knew it would be a tough, hard fought game and it proved to be so.”
“You just wish you could’ve been able to come up with an extra-point to keep it from going into overtime or, even with the last play, it looked like we had the quarterback sacked and they avoided it. It’s a game of inches, that’s for sure, and our kids came up short tonight. I’m sure proud of their fight though.”
That fight can’t go overlooked, on either side, because without it, such overtime magic would’ve never occurred.
A sea-saw battle for four quarters, the Mustangs took control early courtesy of a second-play interception by Keilon Hunter that eventually set up the game’s first touchdown on a five-yard, Grant Hamel run. By the end of the first quarter, North had extended its lead to 17-7 and would’ve gone into halftime with a 20-14 lead had it not been for a critical field-goal block from senior Willy Pegues on a fourth and two from the eight-yard line.
Then, in the second half, the underdog Huskies slowly began putting together tide-turning scoring drives, none bigger or more gut-wrenching for North than a 36-yard score by Northwest workhorse Garret Tierney on a controversial near tackle where the running back rolled over a defender to keep his body off the ground.
“Tierney put the team on his back and was refusing to go down as a running back,” noted Zeguins. “He’s a special, special player and kind of threw the team on his back and said ‘Let’s go’. I think our kids rallied around that.”
Despite losing the 23-20 lead Tierney’s highlight reel rush gave Northwest with 11:07 remaining in the final quarter, the Huskies defense held strong when it mattered most, forcing Raleigh Barthol to convert three-points instead of Hamel and the offense taking six. Those stops would be key in what became a near upset in regulation.
“A ton of stuff went wrong,” Sims said. “Them tying it up at the very end was an example of that. Just making defensive mistake after defensive mistake at the worst opportunities you could have. But I think that goes to coaching because I don’t see how you can put that on a 15 or 16-year old kid in these moments. I have to be a better playoff coach.”
Those playoff dreams nearly evaporated for Sims and his program on a thrilling conversion by Northwest sophomore quarterback Jacob Clark. With the clock winding down under 20-seconds left, Clark stood tall on a fourth and four just outside the red zone to connect with an outstretched Darren Gilkey at the two-yard line, snatching the ball down over his head and slipping away from a defender across the goal line to send the game into overtime.
After the game, Sims told his smiling players that victories of this manner and magnitude are both necessary and expected on the road to a championship. For a program like North who hadn’t won a playoff game since 2003, a state title may be the goal, but a classic finish in the first round can be just as satisfying for now.
“People that love football, that’s what we do- we hold on to games and our fish tale stories get bigger and bigger and bigger,” explained Sims. “That never gets old and we ask our kids, ‘What’s your favorite football moment?’ every year. This is it for them. For this group of guys, this will become their fish tale.”
Then again, that fish tale doesn’t necessarily have to stop growing in 2016. Next up, another home contest with the 6A bracket’s No. 5 squad, Shawnee Mission West, fresh off a 70-6 blowout of Wyandotte. Beat the Vikings and who knows where the fairy tale ends.
“Shawnee Mission West is a great team obviously, but we get another home game and another playoff game where we can use the week to get better,” finished the Mustangs leader. “That’s all we need. This gets us one step closer to a state championship.”