LINCOLN — On the east side of Memorial Stadium, Millard North’s Clay Fisher grinned and briefly jumped into a bed of Mustang students.
On the west side, Omaha North’s Casey Sayles pulled the runner-up medal off his neck and went to hug Conner Phillips, the Viking wide receiver who missed a field goal that could have sent a thrilling Class A state title game into overtime.
Both had dramatic touchdown catches Monday night. Both of them should get scholarships to Nebraska. Sayles, a late-bloomer who played a whale of a game Monday night, is especially intriguing as a defensive line prospect.
But only one of them might get the offer, and it’s the 6-foot-1, 170-pound Fisher, a versatile, surprisingly quick junior who should be the Mustangs’ quarterback next year. He’s also the third Fisher brother to roll through Millard North. He’s not as tall as Sean (NU’s fifth-year linebacker) or Cole (a redshirt freshman Iowa linebacker) but he’s thicker — and perhaps faster — than both.
“You got the Fisher name,” Millard North coach Fred Petito said. “Everybody expects perfection out of him. And remember, Clay’s just a young kid. He got hurt last year and hasn’t played a lot of ball. Clay’s a heck of a player and great in space.”
Fisher showed his open field talent at quarterback earlier this season when he relieved injured starter Isaac Aakre, and he’ll show it next year when he presumably takes the job as his own. With Aakre healthy Monday night, Fisher moved around the backfield where Millard North could find a mismatch and get him on the edge. It didn’t happen much, but with a minute left, the Mustangs hit jackpot on a 46-yard touchdown pass.
Aakre’s pass was decent. What Fisher did with it was excellent. He caught the ball in stride, spun and accelerated to the end zone, landing so hard once he got there that his helmet popped off.
Sayles’ only grab of the night was nearly as good. With North trailing 10-7, Viking quarterback Zach Martin threw a pass headed just below the goal post. It was a terrific throw — the only place Martin could put it — but a tough catch for the 6-foot-4, 250-pound Sayles to make. But he did, keeping both feet just inches inbounds. Sayles called it the best catch of his career. It looked like the game-winner, too, until Fisher trumped it.
With seven tackles against Millard North’s speedy backs and strong offensive line, Sayles made more of an impact on defense. He separates from a lineman well and pursues well laterally for a guy his size. Sayles stuffed the slippery Aakre for a loss in the third quarter. That’s when Omaha North coach Larry Martin said the Vikings moved Sayles around more so the Mustangs couldn’t so easily run away from him.
Sayles is committed to Ohio, yes, but he wants a Nebraska offer. He may not get it at tight end; I like what the Huskers have in a young Sam Cotton and Trey Foster, and NU seems confident it’ll land junior-college tight end Beau Sandland. But I think Sayles should get a longer look on the defensive line. Nebraska wants — and will get — immediate junior-college help at the position, but Sayles is a better option than some of the high school players NU’s pursued.
“My film’s looking pretty good,” Sayles said after the game. “I hope some teams will start jumping on me.” He’ll send out film to Big Ten and Big 12 teams, plus some “coastal schools,” he said.
Clay Fisher’s recruiting process heats up soon, and it’s natural that Nebraska and Iowa will be near the top of his list. Sean watched the game from the stands. You could envision him in either program’s secondary.
“They’re up there,” Clay Fisher said. “I would like to go to one of them, but also I’d like to kind of do my own thing. It all just depends on how it works out.”
Despite a sluggish start, the game turned into a showcase for some of the state’s best talent.
Millard North senior linebacker Nick DeLuca was active and rangy, finishing with 11 tackles and a big sack just before halftime that snuffed a North scoring chance. Though undersized right now, sophomore Viking linebacker Jason Martin has room to grow and nose for the ball.
And, of course, North running back Calvin Strong is a budding star, a stocky, shifty, slippery sophomore who ran for 157 yards. He’s so hard to find in a mess of big bodies until he pops out the other end, and he made a cut to a perimeter hole in the second quarter that Ameer Abdullah would have liked.
But I kept coming back to Sayles. Here’s a kid who played both ways on a team with plenty of talent, pushing the line of scrimmage on defense, protecting Zach Martin on offense, and making the one key catch when the ball finally came his way. It was the best performance on the biggest stage Nebraska high school football has to offer. Was Nebraska watching?
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