PIERCE, Neb. — So much was at stake for Norfolk Catholic in its Class C-1 semifinal, and the Knights knew it.
“The team met last night and we made a list of what we had to play for,” senior quarterback Jordan Bellar said.
On that list, achieved with Tuesday night's 34-14 win over Pierce:
»Beating a rival in a big game, which also was payback for a 20-19 regular-season loss that ended a 32-game winning streak for the Knights.
»Winning for Isaac Pfeifer, the Knights' senior linebacker who suffered spinal injuries in a quarterfinal win over Fort Calhoun.
»Making a fourth consecutive trip to Memorial Stadium for the state finals, a Class C-1 record.
»Getting the chance to be the first in C-1 to win three consecutive state championships.
»Giving coach Jeff Bellar his 300th career win.
“We put it all in our hearts and played for everything, including my old man's 300th win,” Jordan Bellar said. “That's great joy for him and for me.”
Jeff Bellar is the state's third football coach this season and the fifth all-time to reach 300 wins, and did it in the fewest games (354).
His son's three touchdown passes and Jordan's 50-yard average on four second-half punts were major factors in the win. No. 6 Norfolk Catholic (11-1) never trailed and had a 20-0 lead at halftime after two touchdown runs from Jackson Love.
No. 5 Pierce (10-2) scored on a playoff-record 99-yard touchdown run from Nate Meier in the third quarter and twice had the ball while trailing 20-6, but didn't score again until it was 34-6 on Bellar's touchdown passes to Connor Ketter and Riley Knake.
“We got some stops,” Pierce coach Mark Brahmer said, “but didn't do enough to score. We couldn't make the extra play.”
Norfolk Catholic dominated the first half. It held Pierce to 48 yards, 41 coming on a pass, with the Bluejays never getting good field position to start a drive. Their five possessions all started at the 20.
Conversely, the Knights started possessions at the 50, the Pierce 6 after a Jays' fumble on a punt snap and the Pierce 48. The only time the Jays had Norfolk Catholic pinned deep, at the 8, the Knights picked up five first downs before missing a field goal midway through the second quarter.
Norfolk Catholic, on its series after the fumbled punt snap, twice had touchdowns wiped out by penalties before Knake beat a shorter defender for a touchdown pass from Bellar on third-and-goal from 22. Bellar's missed extra point kept the score 13-0 with 4:06 left in the half.
After its defense got its third three-and-out, Norfolk Catholic made it 20-0 with 1:33 left in the half on Love's 5-yard run one play after a 36-yard catch by Brandon Becker.
Meier's 99-yarder, on a pitch play from the end zone, was the longest in an 11-man playoff game. The C-1 record had been 96 yards by Brett Ponton of Battle Creek in a 1987 game against Crofton.
Meier added a 65-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter to end with 229 yards on 15 carries.
Bellar was 8 of 12 for 151 yards. His first three punts pinned the Jays at their 1, 5 and 11.
He said Pfeifer, who was moved Tuesday to Lincoln to begin rehabilitation, was foremost in the Knights' thoughts.
“He's our friend, our teammate, our brother,” Jordan said. “He's in Lincoln waiting for us.”
Norfolk Catholic (11-1)......................7 13 0 14—34
At Pierce (10-2)................................0 0 6 8—14
NC: Jackson Love 1 run (Jordan Bellar kick)
NC: Riley Knake 22 pass from Bellar (kick failed)
NC: Love 5 run (Ethan Hale kick)
P: Nate Meier 99 run (kick failed)
NC: Connor Ketter 25 pass from Bellar (Hale kick)
NC: Knake 7 pass from Bellar (Hale kick)
P: Meier 65 run (Trent Speiker pass from Lane Rohrich)
A: 2,000 (est.)
RUSHING: NC, Love 22-88, Knake 2-2, Nick Arlt 9-29, Bellar 5-23, Kyle Schaefer 1-12. NC, Meier 15-229, Dillon Ronspies 2-4, Speiker 5-13, Rohrich 9-minus 17, Lucas Osborn 1-minus 9.
PASSING: NC, Bellar 8-12-0 151. P, Rohrich 5-14-0 82, Meier 0-2-0 0.
RECEIVING: NC, Knake 3-42, Brandon Becker 1-36, Dylan Field 1-25, Connor Ketter 2-34, Allen Lewis 1-14. P, Christian Beery 2-55, Chance Larsen 1-20, Meier 1-minus 3, Speiker 1-10.
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