HOWELLS — In the storied football history of Howells and Dodge, with annual playoff appearances and state titles, it's difficult to imagine that the two football-crazy towns along Highway 91 have not been to a state championship game since getting together back in 2012.
Add the fact the Jaguars’ opponent, Burwell, has been to the past three D1 championship games and factor in Howells-Dodge's star running back, Lane Belina, leaving the game long before halftime with an injury and one might think it would be another stay in the playoffs that came up a bit short for the Jaguars.
One would be wrong.
Lance Brester stepped in right where Belina left off and Howells-Dodge turned away the Longhorns 56-18 in a game the Jaguars were really never threatened in after the intermission.
"I am just amazed at what this team has accomplished," Howells-Dodge coach Mike Speirs said. "These guys have really put in a lot of hard work, and they really know how to play physical football."
In the beginning, the game looked as if it would become a shootout between the two undefeated teams.
Levi Belina made an impact at the start, scoring on the second play from scrimmage from 59 yards away and with just 49 seconds off the clock, the Jaguars were up 6-0.
Burwell wasted little time answering with a 61-yard pass from Alex Gideon to Cash Gurney and the game was tied with 9:12 left in the first frame.
A couple of minutes later, Jaguar quarterback Gavin Nelson crashed the party on a run to put his team back up 12-6.
"We had a couple of breakdowns early," Spiers said. "But once we got rolling, I thought we played really well."
Howells-Dodge scored early in the second 12 minutes on a 5-yard blast by Jestin Bayer, but once again, the Longhorns responded with another long run to make it 20-12.
The Jaguars finished the half strong with Brester's first touchdown of the night and a 30-yard pass play from Nelson to Blake Sindelar with 20.7 seconds left on the clock to send Howells-Dodge to the intermission up 36-12.
"I'm just so proud of these kids," Spiers said. "You know, I've been around long enough I've coached some of these kids' dads — I just couldn't be happier right now."
The Longhorns scored first in the second half, but it was all Jaguars from there.
Brester sprinted down the sideline for a 57-yard touchdown and then grabbed a pass from Nelson for another score.
Sindelar finished the scoring with a defensive touchdown after swiping a Gideon aerial and racing 38 yards for the final points of the night.
The Jaguars will head to Lincoln to take on 10-1 Cross County, which defeated Hitchcock County 56-20 in the other D1 semifinal.
The D1 title game is slated for Monday, Nov. 22, at 10:15 a.m. at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln.
Class D1 semifinal
Burwell (10-1) 6 6 6 0 — 18
Howells-Dodge (11-0) 12 24 8 12 — 56
H-D: Lane Belina 59 run (run failed), 11:11.
B: Cash Gurney 61 pass from Alex Gideon (run failed), 9:11.
H-D: Gavin Nelson 15 run (run failed), 7:51.
H-D: Jestin Bayer 5 run (Lance Brester run), 9:33.
B: Caleb Busch 65 run (run failed), 7:55.
H-D: Brester 4 run (Brester run), 2:24.
H-D: Blake Sindelar 30 pass from Nelson (run failed), :20.7.
B: Gurney 44 pass from Gideon (pass failed), 6:22.
H-D: Brester 57 run (Brester run), 1:47.
H-D: Brester 6 pass from Nelson (run failed), 4:48.
H-D: Sindelar 38 interception return (run failed), 4:30.