Published Wednesday, November 7, 2012 at 12:01 am / Updated at 11:37 pm
Cougars get shot at redemption in semis

More than two months have passed and Tim Johnk still has a hard time watching the replay.

It was Aug. 31, and his Omaha Gross football team was manhandled by visiting Elkhorn 31-16.

“I watched it again the other night and it pained me,” the Gross coach said. “We played so poorly.”

Johnk and his Cougars get a shot at redemption Friday night when they host Elkhorn (8-3) at 7 p.m. at Bryan Stadium with a spot in the Class B state fooball championship game on the line.

The Cougars (10-1) haven’t lost since that late summer evening. In many ways, that loss has molded them into the team they are today.

“Things happen for a reason,” Johnk said. “That loss left a bad taste in our mouth. If we don’t lose that game, who knows if we get back on track in the direction we needed to go? It made us really evaluate ourselves, and we’ve responded since then.”

Johnk admitted his team got “physically whipped” in the first meeting with the Antlers, but since that time, the Cougars have been doing most of the manhandling.

During its nine-game win streak, Gross has given up just 60 points and its margin of victory is nearly 23 points per game.

“We have guys playing at a high level, guys whose names don’t always get mentioned in the paper,” Johnk said. “They’re all playing with a lot of confidence right now.”

No group is playing with more confidence than the offensive line. Chad Bertagni, Pete Lundak, Zach Becklun, Noah Arneson, Kyle Kuncl, Nate Crnkovich and Joe Coenen have dominated the line of scrimmage this season and made the Cougars a physical nightmare for opposing defenses.

“It’s a good group, and they have bonded throughout the season,” Johnk said. “They have physically controlled the line.”

Elkhorn knows all about controlling the line. After all, the Antlers have been doing it for more than 30 years.

Like Antler teams of the past, this one relies on running the ball at you, around you and, if necessary, through you. I-backs Tanner Bailey and Jake Hasty gouged the Cougars for 157 yards in the previous meeting, and Elkhorn’s two-platoon offensive system is designed to wear opponents down. It did just that for 287 yards rushing against the Cougars.

“They’re going to attack you the same way,” Johnk said. “They try to find your weakness. It’s simple, but efficient. There’s a reason they’re good every year.”

Coming off a quarterfinal round in which the last of the top four seeds were eliminated, Johnk’s Cougars now stand as the highest remaining seed.

“I’m really not surprised,” he said. “That’s the way Class B has been all season. I’ve said all along there were a handful of teams that could win this thing. On any given night, you never know.”

Johnk said the Cougars had their worst week of practice leading up to the first Elkhorn game. He doesn’t expect that to be an issue this time.

“It’s controlled excitement, but the kids are pretty excited to get another shot at them,” he said. “You don’t often get the chance to redeem yourself.”

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