For 20 years, the Howells Bobcats and the Dodge Pirates were two of the best programs in Northeast Nebraska, winning a combined 15 state titles in classes D1 and D2 as separate schools from 1994 to 2011.

Now both towns will be represented in Lincoln by the Jaguars, who are on their way to Lincoln for the first time since the schools consolidated in 2012.

“The kids have just bought in and really worked hard this year,” coach Mike Speirs said. “That’s very satisfying as a coach to see.”

The Jaguars have won by an average of 33.25 points, including just one game that was decided by a possession or less. Their two most recent wins included blowouts of the defending Class D1 champions (Dundy County-Stratton) and finalists (Burwell).

The difference this year has been one of the deepest teams Speirs has ever coached.

“We don’t drop off a whole lot when we have to sub, and that makes it easy as a coach,” Speirs said. “Because whoever you’re putting in there is going to get the job done.”

One of the better examples came in the semifinal against Burwell. In the first quarter, lead running back Levi Belina left the game with a hip injury and didn’t return. In his place came Lance Brester, who totaled 26 carries for 162 yards and two touchdowns. All three were career highs.

“He’s played fullback, and our fullbacks don’t necessarily don’t get a whole lot of carries in our system,” Speirs said. “But Lance has done his job and then when it was his turn to step up, he did a great job of it.”

Speirs said Belina should be good to go for the championship.

Only one game remains for the black and green, but it comes against the team that made it a one-possession ball game: Stromsburg Cross County.

The Jaguars led that game 40-16 in the fourth quarter, but three touchdowns and conversions by the Cougars made it a two-point game. Cross County had the ball with a chance to take the lead with under a minute left, but an interception by Blake Sindelar helped Howells-Dodge escape.

The loss ended up being Cross County’s only blemish of the season. This time, the Cougars will have leading rusher Carter Seim, who missed the last game between the teams with an injury.

Speirs wants to make sure that his Jags aren’t missing any tackles, something he feels led to the Cougars storming back the last time they faced.

He also wants to continue to establish a run game that’s been one of the best in D1, no matter who’s running the ball. Judging by how well both teams do that, the game could go by in a flash.

“I had somebody tell me that this game’s going to kick off at 10:15 and it’ll probably be done by noon,” Speirs said. “That’s probably a pretty accurate statement.”

A win for the towns involved would be a great source of pride for all those in it while continuing a winning tradition — and not just in football.

“There’s a lot of pride in those communities with the school, and our volleyball team won a state title just a few weeks ago,” Speirs said. “In any community, it’s a big source of pride.”

In other news

When the Nebraska School Activities Association announced last year that girls wrestling would be an "emerging sport," many of those in the wrestling community figured it was only a matter of time before it would become an NSAA-sanctioned sport.

Without even trying, we have a vintage Christmas this year. It’s the trend right now to use old decorations and recycled displays, so I went to a store specializing in vintage items to find some different Christmas décor to put around the house.