A couple of weeks ago, Pierce coach Mark Brahmer lamented the lack of home games the last couple of seasons, particularly in the postseason.
This year, the tables have turned.
Pierce has hosted all three of its playoff games — and thanks to a ruling late Friday by the Nebraska School Activities Association — the Bluejays will host a state championship game for the first time since 1989 when Adams Central of rural Hastings makes the 148-mile trek to the Pierce High Athletic Complex for Friday’s 5:30 p.m. kickoff in the Class C1 championship game.
“We hope it’s a big crowd. We hope it’s a fun atmosphere,” he said. “We hope it’s an exciting thing. For us, we’re very excited to be able to host it.”
Brahmer views it as “a celebration of the spirit of the people in Northeast Nebraska” in light of the current COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s the last high school football game of the year, obviously, and with all of the things that people have been going through over the last eight or nine months, I think it’s a celebration of the spirit of the people in Northeast Nebraska,” he said, “... in terms of just perseverance, toughness and resilience to every day work as hard as you can and work to your potential.”
It was determined by seeding that Pierce would host Friday’s game. But it was probably fair anyway.
A year ago, the Bluejays made the same trek before they blasted the Patriots 54-14 in the semifinals to punch last season’s ticket to Memorial Stadium in Lincoln. But looking back, those road trips — along with the mental preparation and physical beatings his team inflicted and received — took a toll.
That exhaustion was apparent in a 38-0 loss in the title game. Pierce had won its previous three playoff games by an average margin of 34 points.
“I can tell you this right now — last year, we coasted into Lincoln on fumes,” Brahmer said admittedly. “We were tired. Everybody looks at the scores of our games in the playoffs and saw that we won (and) the total margin of victory was pretty big, but ... those games were hard-fought battles for 3 to 3½ quarters. I’m not going to make any excuses for our performance down there, but we were really beat-up. We had a lot of guys who were playing who were not even near 100%. We were just tired.
“As I look back on it as a coach, there were some things I would have changed in terms of our preparation and pulled back a little. But at the same time, that’s a double-edged sword if you do that. You could be not as crisp. But if you do it too much ... in that case, we came out tired, and mentally exhausted, too.”
This is the fourth straight rematch for the Bluejays in the postseason. In between regular-season rematches with West Point-Beemer in the first round and last week’s win over St. Paul, Pierce hosted Wahoo in a rematch from last year’s title game.
Brahmer said it does aid preparation by facing a recent opponent.
“They (Adams Central) are doing some of the same things on offense as a year ago, and defense is pretty much the same,” he said. “... They still throw the ball effectively, they’ve got talented receivers, and a kid who can throw it. They’re probably a more physical football team this year with capable running backs.”
Pierce graduated five of its top six rushers and its top two passers from a team that went 12-1 and finished as the state runner-up. How, then, does a team reload from that kind of graduation?
Blame it on the scout team.
Those guys who mimic an opponent’s offense or defense in practice all week in turn learn their own positions over time. That, coupled with the team’s deep runs in the postseason, has helped develop less experienced players.
“If you’re not making the playoffs, or you’re getting beat in the first round, you’re missing out on three or four weeks (of practice),” Brahmer said. “It’s really comparable to a Division I college team not making a bowl game.”
Again, Pierce is bolstered by a big senior class of 18. But Brahmer stressed that the Bluejays have gotten varsity contributions across the board.
“Anytime you’ve got a good football team, it’s usually never one class,” he said. “It’s a combination. At least in my experience here, it’s always been a combination of three and sometimes even four (classes).”