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Class 2A State Championship Preview - Nemaha Central vs. Norton
By Jonny Kane
Copyright: MSC Sports

After starting the season just 1-2 with losses to Sabetha and Holton, the Nemaha Central football team was looking for answers and trying to find an identity on what type of team they would be in 2019.

It’s safe to say that question was answered as the Thunder have rattled off nine consecutive victories including a 39-14 win over Riley County Saturday afternoon putting Nemaha Central into the Class 2A State Championship game for the first time in school history.

The Thunder have dominated in the playoffs winning every game by at least two scores besides a 29-21 overtime win over Rossville in the regional round.

Saturday afternoon Nemaha Central continued their torrid pace with a domination of Riley County getting up 21-0 at halftime before at one point leading 39-0.

The Thunder started slow as they went scoreless on their first three possessions including one fumble and a turnover on downs.

After the turnover on downs the Thunder racked up three straight interceptions and scored on three consecutive possessions on two rushing touchdowns from Dylan Schultejans and one from Gavin Duryea to lead 21-0 at halftime.

The Thunder put the game away quickly out of halftime as the defense forced a three-and-out and Nemaha Central blocked the ensuing punt setting up a short field for Duryea to score his second touchdown on the night pushing the lead to 27-0.

On Riley County’s next possession Nemaha Central’s Bryce Uphaus racked up the Thunder’s fourth interception of the game and returned it to the Falcon 5-yard line before Duryea picked up his third rushing score for a 33-0 lead.

He would pick up his fourth rushing touchdown after another punt from Riley County which was the final score allowing the Thunder to rest the starters a majority of the fourth quarter which resulted in two late touchdowns for the Falcons.

Nemaha Central held Riley County to just 182 yards of total offense and forced four interceptions which is the third time in the last four weeks the Thunder defense forced four turnovers.

Gavin Duryea racked up four rushing touchdowns for the second consecutive week and 86 yards on the ground, while Dylan Schultejans threw for 94 yards.

On the season Duryea is up to 822 yards rushing and 14 touchdowns including 10 scores in the last three games. Schultejans has also thrown for 1,675 yards and 21 touchdowns compared to only nine interceptions while Andrew Leonard and Tyler Gerety have combined for over 900 receiving yards and 14 scores.

The Thunder defense has been the difference maker this season forcing 24 interceptions and 31 total turnovers led by Bryce Uphaus who leads the team in tackles with 95 while he also has five interceptions on the year.

The task will not be easy on Saturday as the Thunder will go up against Norton Community High School who pulled one of the biggest upsets of the year last week beating previously unbeaten and No. 1-ranked Hoisington 10-8.

The Bluejays scored all 10 points in the fourth quarter and after getting down 8-7 late senior quarterback Kade Melvin led the game-winning drive which ended with a 32-yard field goal by Luke Wehlmeier.

Mevlin was great in the win for the Bluejays as he compiled over 275 total yards of offense including 201 through the air and 75 on the ground with one touchdown.

On the season he has done it all rushing for 1,118 yards and 18 touchdowns while throwing for 1,645 more yards and 12 scores compared to seven interceptions.

Senior Luke Wahlmeier is another 1,000-plus yard back as he has six games with over 100 yards and eight touchdowns while Jonah Ruder is the leading receiver with 580 yards and three scores.

Carter Jones has added 390 yards receiving and five touchdowns while defensively the Bluejays are led by Judson Wiltfong and Brandon Vacura who are each over 100 tackles on the year. Wiltfong also leads the team with 22 tackles for loss while junior Gavin Sproul has 18 and Christien Hawks 14.

It could come down to special teams on Saturday and if it does Nemaha Central may have the advantage with four special teams’ touchdowns on the year and one of the top returners in the state in Tyler Gerety.

For the Thunder it’s their first state championship appearance since the consolidation of Baileyville B&B and Nemaha Valley back in 2014 while for Norton it’s their fifth title game appearance and their first since 1989.

Kickoff for Saturday’s game is scheduled for 1 p.m. from Salina District Stadium and it can be heard live on 92.1 KMZA or online here.

©2020 MSC Sports
Hiawatha, KS 66434
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