Bluejays fall to Thunder in Sub-State game
It was déjà vu all over again as the Bluejays advanced to the Sub-State round of the Class 2A high school football playoffs and would meet the top-ranked, undefeated Nemaha Central Thunder in a grudge match from a week-eight Bluejay loss, and a chance to level-up to the State Championship. It was a highly touted area match up with huge implications and the atmosphere was buzzing with the adrenalin from anticipation for this game on Friday, Nov. 17, in Seneca.
It was a defensive battle from the beginning, with the limited scoring, which all came in the first half. The Thunder would edge out the Jays in a close contest with a final score of 17-7.
“We had an outstanding week of preparation. Our scout team did a remarkable job of giving us the best look a team could give,” said Head Coach Garrett Michael.
Nemaha Central won the toss and deferred to the second half, and the Bluejays received and defended the north end zone to start the contest. After a short kickoff return, the Jays started their first possession on their own 28-yard line. Senior running back Colin Menold picked up 16 yards on the first play of the series, and Sabetha pushed the ball to toward midfield before the drive stalled and they were forced punt.
The Thunder started their first possession on their own 29-yard line, chewed up the first quarter clock and drove down inside the Bluejay 10-yard line. Sabetha’s defense refused the end zone to their host, and Nemaha Central were forced to settle for a 22-yard field goal with 1:30 to play in the first period. The Thunder led, 3-0.
Sabetha started their second possession on their own 31-yard line and on the first play of the drive, C. Menold exploded through a hole created by his linemen and lead blockers. He broke away into the secondary and streaked down the field, being brought down just shy of the goal line. Senior running back Chase Frey punched into the end zone for the score from two yards out to give Sabetha the lead. Senior kicker Nate Menold’s point after attempt was good and Sabetha led 7-3 with a minute left in the first frame.
The Bluejay defense forced the Thunder to earn every bit of yardage they gained, and Nemaha Central clawed their way down the field on the first possession of the second quarter to push down to Sabetha’s two-yard line. The Thunder regained the lead with a two-yard tote to the end zone and Sabetha trailed, 10-7.
Sabetha’s offense gained positive yardage on the subsequent possession and pushed into Thunder territory, but the Jays turned the ball over on downs and Nemaha Central took over on offense. The Thunder used most of the remainder of the clock in the first half and logged their second touchdown of the half with a little more than 30 seconds on the clock. The Bluejays would go into the locker room trailing 17-7 at the intermission.
Defense dominated the second half with both teams’ offenses chipping away, gaining yardage and then being shut down. Senior defensive end Christian McAfee forced a fumble from the Thunder quarterback, and Frey scooped it up to swing the momentum in favor of the Bluejays, but that drive would end in a punt. Sabetha’s offense gave up one turnover on an interception on a fourth down attempt in the second half, deep in Thunder territory.
Sabetha’s final drive ended in a turnover on downs and the Thunder would use the remaining clock to their advantage, eventually taking a knee to end the game. Both offenses were shutout in the second half, but Nemaha Central would take the win, 17-7, ending the Bluejays season and advancing to the State championship game.
The Bluejays ended the season 10-2 overall, second in the Big Seven, and Sub-State runner-up for the second season in a row.
C. Menold finished the season with 1,543 total rushing yards, averaging 7.95 yards per carry, with Frey logging 754 yards in the season’s campaign, averaging 7.54 yards per tote. Senior Marcus Bauman led the Bluejays in receptions with 18 catches for 302 yards, with Nate Menold a close second with 17 catches and 293 yards, and McAfee with 15 grabs and 206 yards.
McAfee led the team defense in the tackle category with 71, and also included two interceptions. Dalton Rokey had 61 tackles, a pick and a fumble recovery, and junior Brody Deters inked 55 tackles, one interception and two fumble recoveries from his safety position this season. Bauman led the team in interceptions with four in the campaign.
“I’m super proud of how they played and the effort that was given. I couldn’t have asked a team to do anything more than what this team did this year,” Coach Michael said. “I had high expectations of our seniors and they exceeded my expectations. This team continued the excellence of Sabetha football and made our foundation deeper. This senior class played over one full year of football with all of their playoff wins. They have been part of two final four finishes.”