A season ago, Norfolk found itself in a simple scenario for the Class A football playoffs in the second-to-last game of the season: Beat Lincoln Pius X, and you’re in; lose, and you’re out.
That didn’t play out in favor of the Panthers when the Thunderbolts came to Memorial Field and knocked off the Panthers 27-7.
Fast-forward a year, and Norfolk is in the same situation. A victory over Lincoln Pius X would give the Panthers a 3-1 record in district play and a spot in the Class A playoffs.
But that’s not what coach Tom Olson said the Panthers are talking about going into Friday’s game in Lincoln. After all, it’s not like the Panthers can necessarily bottle anything up from a year ago and use it to try to get a different outcome this year. Olson said it’s a different situation because both teams are different from last year.
“I don’t really think there’s anything to do with that,” he said. “Honestly, when you’re dealing with high school kids, you’re dealing with one game at a time, and what we’re really looking at is the next game being the next game. It doesn’t matter what else happens or how anybody else plays. It comes down to how well we play in this game. We have an opportunity to win. We also have an opportunity to lose.
“We don’t do a lot of time talking about playoffs or what’ll happen if this happens or that happens,” he said. “We just talk about playing the next game.”
That being said, there’s a certain confidence in the locker room following last week’s 21-20 overtime victory against Omaha Central. Along with the 31-28 triumph over Omaha South on Sept. 26 and a 35-20 win at Lincoln Northeast the weekend prior, the Panthers have won three of four games since an 0-3 start.
The two wins over Omaha schools were especially important in that they were both in district play.
“I think that (Omaha Central win), along with the Omaha South game, were really big for us as far as ... you tell them all the time about doing things right, doing things down the stretch and staying focused no matter what the score is,” Olson said. “I thought in both instances, those two games, it really paid off in that we were able to play through some difficult situations. Hopefully that gives them not just confidence, but a belief in the process.”
That leads into Friday’s game at Lincoln Pius X. What will it take to take down the Thunderbolts?
“Pius is tremendously physical up front, and they’re very structured. They will not beat themselves. That’s one of the things you’re always concerned about — you can’t turn the ball over,” he said. “You have to be able to meet their physicality with physicality, and defensively you have to be very sound because they will find ways to get people open and get some creases in your defense.
“It’s a chess game this week. We have to play very well offensively, defensively, and coaching-wise, we have to make sure we’ve got all the bases covered, that our kids are doing what they’re supposed to do regularly.”
It’s one of the bigger games involving area teams this week, and one of a season-high seven high school games included in this week’s picks. To begin, let’s recap last week.
Last week’s results
Records: 8-2 last week, 55-15 season, .785 winning percentage.
How city teams fared: The three city teams combined for a 2-1 record last week, with Lutheran High starting it off by racing past Laurel-Concord-Coleridge (35-32 predicted, 42-16 final). Norfolk High kept it going Friday with a two-point conversion stop in overtime (31-24 predicted, 21-20 final). Norfolk Catholic dropped Friday’s game at Battle Creek (16-10 predicted, 30-0 final).
Highlight: To me, it’s always a highlight when Texas loses. It’s even more of a highlight when it comes against a rival (Oklahoma 41-38 predicted, 34-27 final).
Lowlight: Nebraska’s play along both the offensive and defensive lines. Enough said. (Nebraska 30-28 predicted, Minnesota 34-7 final).
Other results (predictions in parentheses): Oakland-Craig 52, Fremont Bergan 0 (22-16); Wisner-Pilger 62, Homer 28 (36-14); Minnesota Duluth 21, Wayne State 7 (20-13); Houston 31, Kansas City 24 (Kansas City 24-20); Minnesota 38, Philadelphia 20 (22-21).
This week’s predictions
Norfolk (3-4) at Lincoln Pius X (2-5): Last week, I wrote that “the last time the Panthers suffered a big loss, they came back to win their next two games.” They’re halfway there, and doing so again this week would punch their ticket to the playoffs. Four of the Thunderbolts’ five losses have come to teams with a combined record of 24-4. It won’t be easy. Norfolk 23, Lincoln Pius X 21.
Stanton (2-5) at Norfolk Catholic (1-6): Wait, the Mustangs have a better record than the Knights? Of all the things I somewhat expected this season, that was surely not one of them. Norfolk Catholic has scored seven points in eight quarters played since its come-from-behind win at Crofton. The kicking game could be huge in this one. Norfolk Catholic 27, Stanton 19.
Class D No. 7 Lutheran High Northeast (4-2) at Madison (2-4): Something happened Thursday night. I’m not sure what exactly, but the Eagles just looked different. That was a big win last week, not only on the scoreboard but how the Eagles just kept pounding. Lutheran High 56, Madison 20.
Class C No. 4 Battle Creek (6-1) at No. 6 Hartington Cedar Catholic (4-3): We all know the Braves have won six straight games, but only one of those wins has come against a team with a winning record. Likewise, the host Trojans also own one win against a team with a winning record. I expect it to be a close, low-scoring game. Battle Creek 17, Cedar Catholic 13.
Class C No. 2 Bancroft-Rosalie/Lyons-Decatur (7-0) at Fremont Bergan (6-1): A week ago, Bergan played Oakland-Craig in a matchup of then-unbeaten teams, but it turned into a massive 52-0 statement by Oakland-Craig. Can BRLD match that going into a showdown against Oakland-Craig? BRLD 34, Bergan 24.
Central Valley (6-0) at Class D No. 8 Chambers/Wheeler Central/Ewing (6-0): Two undefeated teams. A district championship on the line. They don’t get much bigger in October than a game like this. In this case, I’m siding with the Renegades and that experienced line. CWCE 30, Central Valley 20.
West Holt (4-2) at Class D No. 9 Creighton (4-2): I should reserve the right to put an asterisk next to this one depending upon the severity of an injury to preseason Super Six selection Brayden Zimmerer of Creighton. I also get the impression it’s gut-check time for the defending champion Bulldogs as they host the Huskies, who have won four in a row. Creighton 30, West Holt 21.
Northern State (3-3) at Wayne State (2-4): The Wildcats’ trek through the North Division of the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference continues when Northern State visits Wayne. This will be only the fourth all-time meeting between the teams, and the Wildcats are 3-0 against the Wolves. Wayne State 23, Northern State 20.
No. 16 Michigan (5-1) at No. 7 Penn State (6-0): After watching these two teams play last week, I’d feel a heck of a lot better as a Penn State fan coming off the tough win at Iowa. Kinnick Stadium is really a tough place to win in the Big Ten, and so is Happy Valley. Penn State 17, Michigan 10.
Kansas City (4-2) at Denver (2-4): If there’s a team with championship aspirations that is in desperate need of righting the ship after back-to-back losses, it’s definitely the Chiefs. Although, to be fair, that was rather specific. No matter what, the Chiefs absolutely have to shore up their defense, and Joe Flacco is the kind of quarterback who may oblige. Kansas City 30, Denver 27.