KEARNEY — What a difference a year makes.
One year after going 0-8 in 8-man football, Wauneta-Palisade rode a stingy defense to claim the Nebraska 6-man state championship with a 26-16 win over Sioux County Friday night at Ron and Carol Cope Stadium in Kearney.
Wauneta-Palisade’s win capped an undefeated 11-0 season, and left many of the Broncos in tears after the school lost its last 14 games in 8-man football before playing their first season in 6-man this year.
“Last year, coming out 0-8, that was pretty demoralizing. I can’t have any more respect for my teammates for coming out this year, not giving up, and expecting to win,” said Wauneta-Palisade senior Connor Kayton, who ran 35 yards untouched for the only score of the second half.
Kayton finished with a game-high 199 rushing yards and two touchdowns, and was part of a Wauneta-Palisade defense that shut out Sioux County in the second half. The Broncos did it while only allowing Sioux County 43 total offensive yards after halftime.
Wauneta-Palisade co-coach Randy Geier said his team’s defensive game plan was simple.
“We just said we’re just going to keep riding the storm, stay the course, keep pounding on them physically, and our guys executed very well,” Geier said. “Our defense played great again.”
However, the Warriors had their chances.
Trailing 20-16, Sioux County recovered one of Wauneta-Palisade’s five fumbles at the Broncos 17-yard line midway through the third quarter. But Wauneta-Palisade held Jonny Dunn — Sioux County’s star running back who entered Friday averaging 178.4 rushing yards per game — to 10 yards on three carries before Logan Bischoff intercepted a Garret Gray pass at the Wauneta-Palisade 1 on fourth down to end the Warriors scoring threat.
Wauneta-Palisade also held Sioux County on downs inside its own 10-yard line when Sioux County’s Josh Kling caught a fourth-down pass while on his knees at the Bronco 1.
“We had a slant with an out route underneath. We made the right throw, we just didn’t get it there,” Sioux County coach Barry Swisher said.
Dunn rushed for 67 of his 97 yards in the first half. His 37-yard touchdown run with 3 minutes, 53 seconds left in the first half pulled Sioux County within 20-16.
But the Warriors, whose only other loss came at the hands of Wauneta-Palisade in a 39-28 setback Sept. 21, couldn’t carry the momentum over to the second half. Sioux County’s first four second-half drives reached Wauneta-Palisade territory before stalling. Sioux County’s 16 points were a season-low and were 32 below their 48.4 season scoring average. The Warriors were also intercepted three times - twice at the Wauneta-Palisade 1-yard line.
“They did a good job of dominating the line of scrimmage, basically, so we had to do some passing that we’re not used to,” Swisher said. “They made the plays, and we didn’t.”
Wauneta-Palisade held a 336-241 advantage in total offense thanks in large part to a second half the saw the Broncos outgain the Warriors, 173-43.
Wauneta-Palisade took advantage of short fields in the first half. Three of the Broncos first four drives started in Sioux County territory with two ending in touchdowns. Weylin Davis got behind the defense for a 20-yard touchdown reception for the game’s first score, while Connor Kayton’s 10-yard touchdown run with 9:13 left in the second quarter put Wauneta-Palisade in front 20-8.
Davis’ catch came at the end of a Kayton pass, who found the senior wide open. Kayton completed three of his five pass attempts for a game-high 73 yards for the Broncos, who had two TD passes in the first quarter before settling into their customary ground attack.
“Their ends like to crash, and we figured if we did a few passes, a few pitches it was going to open up,” Kayton said.
Sioux County (9-2)......................8 8 0 0 — 16
Wauneta-Palisade (11-0)...........14 6 6 0 — 26
WP - Hayden Pollmann 47 pass from Connor Kayton (kick failed)
SC - Garret Gray 74 run (Nathan Woodrum kick)
WP - Weylin Davis 20 pass from Jacob Maris (Logan Bischoff kick)
WP - Connor Kayton 10 run (kick failed)
SC - Jonny Dunn 37 run (Woodrum kick)
WP - Kayton 35 run (kick failed)
First Downs 10 10
Rushes-Yards 36-194 41-242
Passes Att-Comp-Int 19-6-3 8-4-0
Passing Yards 47 93
Total Yards 241 336
Fumbles-Lost 1-0 5-3
Penalties-Yards Lost 3-17 9-85
Punts-Ave. 2-22.0 1-11.0
RUSHING - SC, Jonny Dunn 16-97, Garret Gray 12-83, Nathan Woodrum 6-9, Josh King 1-5, Ron Fink 1-0. WP, Connor Kayton 27-199, Jack McGraw 13-44, Team 1-(-1).
PASSING - SC, Nathan Woodrum 5-11-1, 49 yds.; Garret Gray 1-8-2, minus-2 yds. WP, Connor Kayton 3-5-0, 73 yds.; Jacob Maris 1-3-0, 20 yds.
RECEIVING - SC, Josh Kling 3-34, Jonny Dunn 1-13, Garret Gray 1-2, Nathan Woodrum 1-(-2). WP, Hayden Pollmann 2-66, Weylin Davis 1-20, Jack McGraw 1-7.