A conversation Arnold Johnson had this summer with some of his Boone Central/Newman Grove football players stuck with the veteran coach.
“Some of the seniors told me that they were going to play their last game of the season at Memorial Stadium. It really impressed me that they had enough confidence to say that,” Johnson said. “I think that's one of the reasons we're here, because they believed in themselves. And they were willing to put in the work.”
Boone Central/Newman Grove is right where it wanted to be during Thanksgiving week as the No. 2 Cardinals (11-1) face a familiar foe in Norfolk Catholic in the Class C-1 final at 2:45 p.m. Tuesday.
No. 5 Norfolk Catholic (11-1) gave the Cardinals their only regular-season loss. The Knights rallied in the fourth quarter for a 35-31 win on Sept. 7.
One of the seniors who has led the Cardinals to the championship game is Tanner Mazour, a three-year starter at quarterback. Mazour has thrown for more than 1,000 yards each of those three seasons — he has 1,334 this fall. He's added another dimension to his game as he has 885 yards and 23 touchdowns rushing.
“This is the first year we've had him run and it kind of makes me wonder why we didn't have him run more in the past,” Johnson said. “It makes it so much more difficult on the defense because it's like having another back in the backfield.”
Mazour, who threw a game-winning 17-yard touchdown pass to Derek Gentrup with 6:16 left to give the Cardinals a 21-14 win over No. 1 Adams Central in the semifinals, isn't an imposing back as he's listed at 5-foot-8, 165 pounds. But Johnson said he's a tough runner to stop.
“It seems like this year he's learned his technique and has the confidence to get it done,” Johnson said. “He's got really strong legs — he actually has the highest squat of any player I've coached. He's got a low center of gravity, he can break tackles, he's elusive in the open field and he's just some speed to boot.”
The Cardinals have other senior weapons in 1,000-yard rusher Blake Slizoski, a 500-yard receiver in Hunter Henry and lineman Beau Bremer.
Johnson led the Cardinals to the state championship in 2001 in the first year the school became Boone Central — the Cardinals also lost the 2004 title game to Norfolk Catholic. This is the first year that the program has competed as Boone Central/Newman Grove.
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