LINCOLN — Larry Martin stood atop a podium inside Memorial Stadium Monday night, handing medals out to his Omaha North players.
One-by-one they got a hunk of silver on a ribbon, exited the podium and turned to watch the giant screen on the north side of the stadium.
Most stared in disbelief. Some shook their heads. All acted like they were surprised that unbeaten Millard North, the state’s No. 1 team, had just beaten them for the Class A state title.
It looked that way because they were.
“That was the first thing that we told them,” Martin said of his team believing it would win. “We told them that this coaching staff was going to put together a game plan for the opportunity for them to win the football game. That was the first thing that we told them, and we never backed down from that from the get-go.”
Neither did his team.
The Vikings, making their first appearance in a state final, stood and swung with one of the most tradition-rich programs in the state.
Trailing by three with about six minutes to play, North drove the field in six plays and scored on a play-action pass from quarterback Zach Martin to Casey Sayles.
Millard North swung back.
The Mustangs went 68 yards on four plays, capped by a 46-yard touchdown pass from Isaac Aakre to Clay Fisher.
But it wasn’t the knockout punch.
North drove all the way to the Millard North 15 before settling for a field-goal attempt, one that went wide left and took the last fight out of the Vikings.
“They were great, weren’t they?” Millard North coach Fred Petito said. “They were just great. It was what it should have been: a heck of a Class A final.”
Millard North went without a point in the first two quarters, something that it hadn’t done in a half all season. After the Mustangs had some success on their opening possession, they went without a first down (and managed just 22 total yards) on their next four.
The new kid on the block was doing what it needed to win a state title.
But miscues crept in. The Vikings were stopped on fourth-and-goal from the 1 in the first half. In the fourth quarter, on another fourth-and-1 in their own territory, an offensive lineman jumped for a false start after Martin had decided to go for it.
“We did a couple of things uncharacteristic tonight,” Martin said. “Just little things like that. But I was so happy with the effort that they gave and everything that they did. It was just a great effort.”
He insists in 20 years when he pops in the DVD that there will be nothing but positive thoughts about Monday night.
And maybe more than one championship game to remember.
“We’ll be back,” Martin said.
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