NORFOLK, Neb. — Norfolk Catholic’s 51-8 win over Fort Calhoun in a Class C-1 quarterfinal Tuesday night came at a pretty hefty cost.
Less than two minutes into the game, senior linebacker Isaac Pfeifer suffered an apparent lower spine injury after applying a hit to Fort Calhoun’s James Rathjen on a first-down pass. Unable to get off the field, Pfeifer was taken away in an ambulance and later was flown to an Omaha hospital for further evaluation.
“That is a thing that you pray about as a coach, that you never want to experience that type of injury. Our prayers right now are that he’ll get better and there will be a full recovery. We just don’t know right now,” Norfolk Catholic coach Jeff Bellar said. “Any time that you have a back type of injury or a neck type of injury, they scare you. You don’t want that to happen to any of our young men.”
The injury appeared to rattle the No. 5 Knights (10-1).
No. 8 Fort Calhoun (9-2) controlled the ball for much of the first quarter, twice moving to the Norfolk Catholic 30 while holding the Knights without a first down for the opening 10 minutes.
“I didn’t think we were at our best for maybe the entire game, although we scored a lot of points,” Bellar said. “But I don’t know if we ever mentally recovered as far as the snap that we were looking for, and it’s hard. It’s hard for kids. It’s hard for coaches.”
A 62-yard touchdown pass from Jordan Bellar to Dylan Field with 1:42 left in the first quarter gave Norfolk Catholic a 7-0 lead and a spark. And the Knights ran with it.
Less than three minutes into the second quarter, Allen Lewis blocked a punt inside the Fort Calhoun 5 that was recovered by the Pioneers in the end zone for a safety. On the ensuing possession, a 32-yard pass from Bellar to Riley Knake set up a 1-yard Jackson Love touchdown run.
It was Knake’s only catch of the game, but Bellar finished 7 of 12 for 99 yards and four touchdowns — adding scoring strikes to Connor Ketter and Lewis in the second half after hitting Brandon Becker from 21 yards out to give the Knights a 23-0 halftime lead.
“We told our team that we were going to have to be perfect on the offensive side of the ball because they’re so strong. They’re not overly huge, but their kids move well,” Fort Calhoun coach Michael Huffman said. “We were just a little bit off with a couple of our throws. We got it down to the 30 twice and couldn’t convert fourth downs.”
The Knights finished with 294 yards of total offense but got a couple of big punt returns in addition to the blocked punt. Becker’s 29-yard return set up his touchdown catch, while Love’s score came after a 29-yard return by Zach Pospisil following the safety.
The Knights will travel to Pierce, which beat Wahoo 35-7, for a semifinal next Tuesday that will also give Bellar a shot at career win No. 300. The Bluejays handed Norfolk Catholic its only loss of the season, a 20-19 setback on Oct. 12.
“It will be a tremendous football game, I’m sure. It will take tremendous effort from us and, obviously, they’re playing well,” Bellar said. “To win the football game, we will have to be at our best. We know that.”
Fort Calhoun (9-2) ................. 0 0 0 8—8
At Norfolk Catholic (10-1) ................. 7 16 21 7—51
NC: Dylan Field 62 pass from Jordan Bellar (Bellar kick)
NC: Jackson Love 1 run (Bellar kick)
NC: Brandon Becker 21 pass from Bellar (Bellar kick)
NC: Connor Ketter 28 pass from Bellar (Bellar kick)
NC: Allen Lewis 9 pass from Bellar (Bellar kick)
NC: Christian Sextro 5 run (Ethan Hale kick)
FC: Jordan Kann 50 interception return (Kann run)
NC: David Engelhaupt 2 run (Chase Farlee kick)
RUSHING: FC, Kann 16-21, James Rathjen 9-37, Jaden Boudle 3-33. NC, Love 7-35, Bellar 1-minus-9, Nick Arlt 7-51, Kyle Schaefer 2-19, Engelhaupt 4-15, Nathan Brtek 1-5, Becker 1-11, Riley Knake 1-11, Sextro 7-56.
PASSING: FC, Kann 7-22-1 92. NC, Bellar 7-12-1 99, Matt Miller 0-2-1 0.
RECEIVING: FC, Boudle 4-65, Rathjen 2-4, Brad Naughton 1-23. NC, Field 1-62, Lewis 3-23, Arlt 1-minus-5, Knake 1-32, Becker 1-21, Ketter 1-28.