LINCOLN — Not since the days when Howells and Dodge were separate schools had either town witnessed a state champion. It was far from an unfamiliar occurrence for either team. The Howells Bobcats and Dodge Pirates combined to win 15 state titles from 1994 to 2010.

Nearly 10 years after consolidating in 2012, a Jaguars team representing both towns as one school finally got a title of its own. The Jaguars defeated the Stromsburg Cross County Cougars 42-12 on Monday in the Class D1 final in Memorial Stadium.

“I’m just proud of the boys. That’s a great group of boys over there,” Howells-Dodge coach Mike Speirs said. “They’re so much fun to coach, they did whatever we asked of them.”

The Jaguars threw an interception and fumbled on their first two possessions, the latter of which allowed Cross County to have first and goal at the 1-yard line. Howells-Dodge kept Cross County out of the end zone on first down.

The next play was supposed to be a handoff from Shayden Lundstrom to Carter Seim, but Blake Sindelar barged through the line of scrimmage and knocked the ball away before Seim could even touch the ball. The black and green then took over at their own 4.

Sindelar, whose nine total tackles were tied with Jestin Bayer for the team lead, was in the right place thanks to a tip from a teammate.

“My corner Gavin Nelson told me to get up, so I got up and I blitzed,” Sindelar said. “I actually tripped, and I stretched out and tipped it out of his hand and we got on top of it.”

The ensuing drive took the game into the second quarter with no score, but on the first play after the break, Levi Belina took it 44 yards for a touchdown.

Howells-Dodge would force three-and-outs on Cross County’s next two drives and respond with touchdown runs; one by Lance Brester and another by Belina.

The touchdown runs were among four by Belina, who had 23 carries for 153 yards. It was his seventh straight game with at least 130 yards.

Belina credits the linemen in front of him for the adjustments made after a slow first quarter.

“The O-line really stepped it up. They started blocking hard. They got to their blocks and drove people,” Belina said. “That really opened up lanes for me, but it was a whole team effort.”

The yardage gave him 2,032 for the season, a career high and the first time he’s eclipsed 2,000 yards in his career.

“I knew I needed about 130 to get to it and I got it,” he said. “That’s a great feeling.”

A trio of big plays by Cross County got it down to the Jaguars’ 20. The black and green would force a fourth and 5, on which Seim took a direct snap past the first-down marker. However, he had the ball stripped away, allowing Howells-Dodge to run out the clock and take a 20-0 lead into halftime.

The Cougars got the ball back to start the second half and were forced into another three-and-out. The punt to follow was blocked by Evan Haas and Belina took it back to the Cross County 9. He ran in a touchdown on the next play.

The Cougars finally got on the scoreboard on the ensuing drive when Lundstrom found Izaac Dickey for a touchdown pass.

Caleb Perrin lost control of the ensuing kickoff, which Lance Brester picked up before he was tackled in the end zone. However, the play was called a touchback and Howells-Dodge took over.

The teams traded three-and-outs, then Belina ran it in from 16 yards away.

Heading into this game, Cross County was averaging 357 team rushing yards a game. Against Howells-Dodge, it had 172, its lowest mark in a game this season. Seim — who averaged 208 heading in — was held to 101 yards, his second fewest in a game this year.

Belina also completed Howells-Dodge’s only pass of the day, a 6-yard strike to Nelson.

There wasn’t a more active defender for the black and green than Jestin Bayer. The Jags’ leading tackler was tied for the team lead with nine and led with two tackles for loss.

The junior middle linebacker saw it as a marked improvement from the last time they played the Cougars. Back in September, Howells-Dodge fended off a furious late comeback to win 40-38. Once the Jaguars got the lead this time around, Bayer knew they needed to keep pushing.

“We knew that we were going to be solid, but we had to keep it up,” he said. “The last time we played them, we gave up a little bit and this time kept it at them and we didn’t stop.”

With the season now over, Cross County will have to say goodbye to a talented group of seniors, which includes Siem, Lundstrom and second-leading rusher Hayden Hild. The group was a big reason for the team's recent success, which included a 22-3 record over the past two seasons.

Despite the loss, coaching the team has been some of the most fun Hayden DeLano’s ever had.

“They’re good dudes,” he said. “Practice has been fun. Team dinners have been fun and just being around them and getting to be a part of their lives.

“That will last a lot longer than the sting of this loss. So I love those guys, and I’m thankful that we got to spend this time together.”

Speirs — who led Howells to each of its eight state titles — will remember the kind of hard work his team put into the 2021 season.

“Practice was a lot of fun because they worked so hard,” he said. “It’s a great group of kids.”

Howells-Dodge completes its season a perfect 13-0. Cross County finishes 11-2, with both losses coming to the Jags.

Class D1 state final

Cross County 0 0 6 6 — 12

Howells-Dodge 0 20 14 8 — 42

Scoring summary

SECOND QUARTER

H-D: Levi Belina 44 run (Belina run), 11:52.

H-D: Lance Brester 4 run (PAT failed), 5:04.

H-D: Belina 7 run (PAT failed), 1:37.

THIRD QUARTER

H-D: Belina 9 run (PAT failed), 10:29.

SCC: Izaac Dickey 13 pass from Shayden Lundstrom (PAT failed), 6:59.

H-D: Belina 16 run (Belina run), 1:43.

FOURTH QUARTER

H-D: Gavin Nelson 6 pass from Belina (Belina run), 9:39.

SCC: Cory Hollinger 25 pass from Lundstrom (PAT failed), 2:56.

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