GRAND ISLAND — Grand Island Northwest took to the air in record-setting fashion Friday night as the Vikings defeated Gering 40-23.
Quarterback Zach Rouzee broke his own Class B record as he threw for 421 yards and five touchdowns, including three long distance strikes to senior wide receiver Alex Larsen in the second half. Rouzee also had scoring strikes to Kyle Bockmann and Austin Anderson as the Vikings came out throwing and never really stopped.
Northwest coach Kevin Stein said that Gering was focused on controlling the Northwest running game, so the Vikings decided to go with the passing game until the Bulldogs shifted their focus — but that never happened.
“I thought that after a while they'd back off the pressure up front and we'd get a chance to run the ball,” Stein said. “But they stayed with that, and we were able to take advantage. When we didn't do a good job, it was the things we did and didn't do.
“We were pretty darn close several times, but we stopped ourselves. Their approach on defense was pretty much feast or famine. Bringing their front seven and trying to play man against our speed is going to be tough.”
The first half was a series of missed opportunities for the Vikings, as Northwest (4-1) struggled to take advantage of Gering turnovers and prime field position.
The initial Viking possession ended after Rouzee was picked off by Branden Gabel, but Northwest returned the favor as Larsen grabbed an interception and returned it to near midfield for the Vikings.
Nine plays later Northwest got on the board as Rouzee found Bockmann in the right flat for seven yards and the game's first touchdown.
However, offense took a backseat to defense, as the teams traded possessions four times over the next 13 minutes before the Vikings again created an opportunity.
After a Northwest punt pinned Gering (3-2) inside its 15, Noah Watson covered a Bulldog fumble on first down. Two plays later Rouzee hit Anderson in the right flat for 16 yards and the score.
Gering responded on its next possession as Gage Smith hit a 31-yard field goal midway through the second period.
Northwest added one more score in the first half as Bockmann got a one-yard touchdown run to build a 19-3 lead.
After holding Gering on its final possession, Northwest had a chance to add a score, but Brandon Bachle's 32 yard field goal attempt went wide as time ran out.
The Vikings took the second half kickoff and advanced smartly downfield, but on second and goal from the Bulldog three, Bockmann was hit as he tried an option pass.
The ball ended up in the hands of Jake Rexus, who roared 95 yards downfield for a touchdown. Northwest got the ball on its 20 after a touchback, and on second down Rouzee hit Larsen on a slant from the left side, and 72 yards later Northwest's lead was back to 16.
Stein then opted to roll the dice, blooping a short kickoff towards the sideline, and Beau Johnson recovered to put Rouzee and company back on the field.
The Vikings bogged down and settled for a field goal attempt, but again the kick went wide. Giltner managed one first down before surrendering one of its five fumbles, and Trevor Kraft recovered for Northwest.
On first and 15 from the Viking 48, Rouzee again hit Larsen on a slant from the left side, and 52 yards later Northwest added another score.
Afer Gering scored early in the fourth, the Rouzee/Larsen combination again clicked for Northwest.
This time, Larsen hauled in a pass in the left flat, danced past two defenders and headed up the sideline to put Northwest up by 24 points.
“We gave them short fields all night,” Gering coach Jimmy Rhodes said. “They had too many opportunities to keep their offense on the field, and those little dinks and dunks really added up.
“We were able to line up and play Lexington, so we were ready for a spread offense. But (Rouzee) did a great job getting the ball to their playmakers, and they made the difference.”
Larsen finished with nine catches for 242 yards to lead the Viking receivers, while Anderson hauled in seven passes and Alec Waters had five.
Northwest next faces Scottsbluff, which proved its mettle in a decisive win Friday over Aurora.
“We need to do two things this week before we play them,” Stein said. “We need to get healthy first of all — we've got two important players, Tyler Garrett and Conner Eberhardt, banged up, and we want to get them back in. The other thing is that sometimes we're overthinking things on offense. We need to just go out and execute.”
Gering (3-2) ........... 0 3 7 13—23
Northwest (4-1) ........... 7 12 14 7—40
NW — Bockmann 7 pass from Rouzee (Bachle PAT kick), 5:52
NW — Anderson 16 pass from Rouzee (PAT run failed), 6:44.
G — Smith 31 field goal, 3:40.
NW — Bockmann 1 run (PAT pass failed), 2:45.
G — Rexus 95 interception return (Smith PAT kick), 9:40.
NW — Larsen 72 pass from Rouzee (Bachle PAT kick), 9:02.
NW — Larsen 52 pass from Rouzee (Bachle PAT kick), 5:59.
G — De Mott 2 run (PAT kick blocked), 11:44.
NW — Larsen 52 pass from Rouzee (Bachle PAT kick), 11:01.
G — Guzman 10 run (Smith PAT kick), 2:58.
Rushing — G, Guzman 22-108, Smith 15-77, De Mott 5-18, Chitwood 2-6. NW, Bockman 6-66, Leaman 15-33, Johnson 3-8, Rouzee 1-(-1), Arriola 1-(-1).
Passing — G, De Mott 2-12-2-26. NW, Rouzee 27-45-1-421, Bockmann 0-1-1-0.
Receiving — G, Ferguson 1-26, Winkler 1-0. NW, Larsen 9-242, Anderson 7-63, Waters 5-45, Leaman 2-42, Bockmann 2-12, Kraft 1-9, Havranek 1-8.