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I tell you what, the 2016 football season went by way too fast. We saw some incredible performances throughout the year, starting with Neligh-Oakdale’s surprisingly dominant win over Creighton to open the season and ending with Clearwater-Orchard’s attempted upset bid of Chambers/Wheeler Central/Ewing, a game that was tied at 28 going into the final quarter.
Now, the games are about to get a bit more exciting. With the announcement of the 2016 playoff field Saturday morning, we learned that there are eight Holt, Antelope, Knox or Boone County teams with a shot at the title yet. Some notable teams were left out, such as Boone Central/Newman Grove. It really is too bad that Neligh-Oakdale wasn’t able to play either, because to be honest a potential final of the Warriors versus CWCE would likely have gone down as the game of the year.
Anyway, lets focus on the eight who are in, starting with C1.
Undefeated O’Neill takes on Columbus Lakeview in a rematch of an early season game that the Eagles won 36-14, giving up their first points of the season. Should the Eagles win - I predict they do - they dive into a section of the bracket that includes Norfolk Catholic, Aquinas Catholic, Boys Town and Arlington. That is a tough draw. If they make it through that to the championship game, it’ll be on the strength of their solid defense and the arm of talented junior quarterback Alex Thramer.
In C2, Crofton represents Knox County as the seventh seed when they take on Central City. Crofton is one of the better running teams in the area, led by Tanner Crosley, but they will have to contend with a strong Central City front that includes potential division one player Jordan Paup. It won’t be easy, but they should move on to the next round, likely to take on a tough Valentine squad.
The D1 field is littered with local teams, led by the second seed, Creighton. The Bulldogs draw a matchup with Diller-Odell, a game they should win handily, much like they have all year. Likely their biggest obstacle to making the state championship would be a semifinal showdown with top-seeded Guardian Angel CC, Clearwater-Orchard’s first round opponent. The Cyclones, despite the string of losses, have been playing some of their best ball the past few weeks against highly ranked playoff teams. An upset isn’t out of the picture, but it will take a perfect game from Chris Kester and crew.
CWCE draws a first round match with 3-5 Sutherland. I have heard rumors that the Renegades may be without their do-everything stud Daniel Libolt, but the Croxens are a dominant duo that should dominate the game for the Renegades. Their potential second round opponent, West Holt, has one of the longest journeys of anyone in the playoffs when they head to Dundy County-Stratton in a battle of 5-3 teams. The drive will play a factor. If Mason Hale and company can continue to play as well as they have the past couple of weeks, they should be making a long trip home with a win.
Finally, in D2, Bloomfield has been on an absolute tear since a week one loss to Wynot. They take on Exeter-Milligan. Quentin Moles has played as well as anyone in the state this year, and I don’t expect the Timberwolves to be able to contain him any better than anyone else. If all goes well, there is a small chance they could get revenge on Wynot for a shot at the finals. St. Mary’s is on the other side of the bracket, taking on Eustis-Farnam. Both teams know how to get the ground game going. For St. Mary’s that starts with quarterback Josh Cuddy, who has a tendency to take over a game when the Cardinals need him the most. Expect that to happen against the Knights. They should win and make a deep run in the bracket.