Larry Martin vividly remembers the ride home.
Not the streets or turns the bus carrying his Omaha North football team took back into the city from the west Omaha suburbs.
But the silence.
“You could have heard a pin drop,” Martin said. “We drove all the way from Millard back to home and there wasn’t a word said on our bus.”
Martin’s Vikings on Oct. 19 had pushed the top-ranked team in the state to the wire. They had the ball on two occasions in the final five minutes trailing by six.
Interceptions ended each drive.
Millard North celebrated a hard-fought win on its home turf. Omaha North climbed aboard its bus and began a silent ride.
“I thought we played well enough to beat a majority of the teams in the state that night,” Martin said, “but it wasn’t good enough to beat Millard North.”
That’s the lofty goal on Monday night when the teams replay that regular-season finale for the big prize: a Class A state championship.
It’s the first time Omaha North (10-2) will play for the title. Undefeated Millard North (12-0), on the other hand, is in its seventh final in the past 12 years.
Maybe both teams will go about things differently on Monday than they did in that 37-31 Mustang win in mid-October.
But if the championship game goes down anything like the first meeting, fans at Memorial Stadium and watching on statewide television are in for a treat.
Some of the highlights from the earlier meeting:
» Omaha North led early on sophomore running back Calvin Strong’s 61-yard touchdown run on the game’s opening possession and again later in the quarter on a scoring pass from quarterback Zach Martin to Tre’Von Walker.
» Behind three first-half touchdowns from quarterback Isaac Aakre, Millard North erased a pair of deficits and went to the break up 21-17. Aakre ran for 262 yards (part of 414 on the night for the Mustangs) on 43 carries, rushing for three scores and throwing for another.
» Omaha North’s Donte Hill tied the game in the third quarter with a 56-yard touchdown run right up the gut before Aakre and Matt Evans hooked up on a 50-yard scoring strike to give Millard North the lead for good. The Mustangs’ Andy Bayne hit three second-half field goals to help the cause.
But what most who were there probably were talking about the next day was a referee’s call that affected how Omaha North went about its comeback attempt.
With Millard North facing a third-and-long inside its own 40, Aakre was dropped for a sack that appeared to push the Mustangs back even further before a punt.
But a flag for a horse collar tackle was thrown on the sack of Aakre, who was pulled down from behind by rangy Omaha North defensive end Aireon Porter.
In the blink of an eye, a potential game-changing play for Omaha North became a third-and-short for Millard North after the penalty was marked off.
Coach Martin was visibly angry, charging to nearly the hash marks in protest, garnering another flag for a sideline warning.
“The biggest thing was it was a huge momentum changer,” Martin said when asked to recall the play earlier this week. “We had a play defended and our kid got called. With all that being said, you still have to make plays.”
North still came up with a stop on third-and-short on the next snap, but got the ball back deep in its own territory when it possibly could have had far more favorable field position had the flag not been thrown.
While the bit of controversy spiced up the ending of the game, particularly for fans on both sides, Martin said it wasn’t a deciding factor.
Millard North did what it had to do to win the game, he said.
“So much of it with Millard North is that you can’t put yourself in a position where you feel like you’re playing catch up,” he said.
For his part, Mustang coach Fred Petito was impressed with what Omaha North showed that night.
“They’re pretty darn good,” Petito said. “Some teams have a great back that makes their linemen look a lot better. That’s not the case here. They have a great back, but they have great linemen, too. We knew it going into that game and we knew it again in the first quarter.”
On the flip side, Martin said he liked the way his team adjusted to Millard North’s blocking schemes as the game went along.
The Vikings came up with stops in the red zone, forcing two of Bayne’s three field goals. Millard North is averaging 45 points per game in the playoffs, but against North, the only Mustang touchdown after halftime came on the long option pass play from Aakre to Evans.
“One of the things that I feel like our defense has done very well with this year is when they see how they’re being blocked, they learn from it,” Martin said. “I felt like there was a learning curve there a little bit. I thought our defense played extremely hard against a very proven, tough team.”
Just before the Vikings left the Buell Stadium field on Oct. 19, Martin told them how proud he was of their effort. He pointed to their seven wins, the same number as the previous two seasons combined. And he told them their best was still to come.
“I mean that,” Martin said in a postgame interview.
It was something to think about on a quiet ride home.
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