The much anticipated matchup between state-ranked teams Creighton and Clearwater/Orchard lived up to hype Friday evening as both squads battled tooth and nail to the finish. In the end, the Bulldogs emerged victorious with a 50-44 victory over the Cyclones.
"We knew coming in that OC was going to play a very physical brand of football," said Creighton coach Zac Kliment. "We like to do the same and we like to run the ball. They came very prepared and hit hard right out of the gate. They put a test on us, but I was really proud how our kids responded. We stayed confident in the offense and kept the ball rolling. We had some young guys step in that haven't had a lot of (playing) time and they did a good job as well."
"Of course we are disappointed in the loss," said OC mentor Jeff Shabram. "We had momentum going in the second half and right up until the end these boys believed they were going to win this football game. That's something we sometimes take for granted with these boys, but when you have a game like this tonight, you can sit back and appreciate their mentality. They fought hard in the second half. Creighton is a phenomenal team and we have to give them credit. They're No. 1 for a reason and we have to learn from this."
Creighton jumped out to a 14-0 lead thanks to touchdown runs by Brayden and Bryce Zimmerer.
On the ensuing kickoff, Eli Macke went 78 yards for a TD.
Following Blake Hoke's interception of Brayden Zimmerer's pass, Chris Kester found the end zone on a one-yard scoring plunge and Jacob Long converted the two-point conversion to give the Cyclones a 16-14 lead.
Bryce Zimmerer answered with three unanswered touchdown runs to give the Bulldogs a 20-point advantage at half.
"We always preach to our kids that this is an offense that can score a lot of points if we play sound, assignment football," Kliment said. "When we get to the guys we're suppose to, that opens things up for guys like Bryce Zimmerer or Brayden (Zimmerer). I was excited to see tonight the kids on the field signaling different plays to me. They recognized the offense so well and know what's going to be there. Bryce called his own touchdown right before the half. He signaled it over to me and said it would be wide open, and it was. I love these kids."
Creighton out rushed OC, 220-8, in the first half.
"The last several years we've had one of the top defenses in the state, in terms of run defense," Kliment continued. "That comes from our d-line eating up a lot of blocks and letting our linebacker get free. Once we sure up the pass defense, we will be sound."
It took the Cyclones just four plays to find the end zone to start the third, as Kester scored from 16 yards out.
Neither team scored for the remainder of the third, but the Bulldogs jumped back up by 20 with Bryce Zimmerer's four-yard scoring run.
Kester responded with a one-yard TD run on OC's next possession to come within 12, but the senior tailback for Creighton broke free for his sixth touchdown of the game on a 37-yard scamper.
Trailing by 20 with 5:22 left, the Cyclones quickly got to work as Kester ran in his fourth TD with four minutes remaining to cut Creighton's lead to 14.
Following a turnover on downs by the Bulldogs, Kester connected on a 65-yard scoring pass to Hoke. A successful two-point conversion brought OC within six, with a minute remaining.
"That's their mentality," Shabram said on the team not giving up. "We've been here before, down big, but they keep fighting. We know if that happens to us again, we just learn from previous experiences and keep fighting. You have to give our players and coaches credit. Our assistant coaches did a nice job of making adjustments at halftime. Defensively and offensively, the second half was a nice half for us. We just ran out time."
Creighton recovered the ensuing onside kick and ran out the clock to secure the victory.
"We prepared well in practice for them (OC)," Bryce Zimmerer said. "We watched film on them and I don't want to say we underestimated them because they are ranked in D2. Give our linemen credit. They (OC) were sending seven or eight (defenders) all night. Our linemen held them off and we held on for the win. We got a little tired and we need to condition more in practice for sure, but they are ranked in D2 for a reason. They're a tough team, have a lot of good athletes and they're going to do really good in D2."
After accumulating just 81 yards of offense in the first half, the Cyclones ended the game with more than 300 yards of total offense. Kester led OC with more than 200 yards passing and a touchdown, Kester also added 85 yards on the ground and four scores. Hoke caught four passes for 143 yards and a TD, while Clay Thiele recorded five catches for 51 yards.
"We knew we were having a tough time controlling the line of scrimmage," Shabram noted. "Coming into the game, that was something we wanted to do and knew we had to, well it wasn't working. We're not going to beat our head against a brick wall. We made some adjustments. We have a lot of talent on offense and we knew if we could spread the ball around a little bit, we could move the ball. They did a nice job."
The Bulldogs' running attack was all Creighton needed in the win. The Red and Black rushed for more than 350 yards, led by Bryce Zimmerer's 228 yards and six touchdowns. Brayden Zimmerer ran for 135 yards and a score. The junior quarterback threw just eight passes for 58, and did not attempt a pass in the second half.
"Kudos to the linemen," Bryce Zimmerer stated. "Every play I had something to go with, unless they (OC) were blitzing their middle linebacker. If I got tackled in the backfield, it was by him. At halftime we fixed that and I don't think I got tackled behind the line in the second half. The linemen did an amazing job tonight."
Creighton (2-0) takes a week off before returning to the field Sept. 14 at Homer.
"We knew these first two games were going to be really tough," Kliment said. "Having this bye week is chance to heal up. After the bye week, we're basically starting a fresh, new season. We have to get rolling again and we play some teams that we're going to be confident going in. We have to make sure we get the most out of what we can going into those games."
Clearwater/Orchard (1-1) has a bye week this week before traveling to Atkinson to play West Holt Sept. 14.
"We have a long weekend here and then the bye week, there's going to be a lot of film study," Shabram concluded. "We need to see what we need to work on technique wise in practice. We'll work on that every day and we have a week to do that and get ready for West Holt after that."