LINCOLN — An interception. A fumble returned for a touchdown. Five penalties that cost them 34 yards.
Those were just some of the things that dug the Pierce Bluejays into a hole that ended up being too deep to come out of on Tuesday. They lost to the Columbus Lakeview Vikings 37-25 in the Class C1 title game in Memorial Stadium.
“If anybody takes the blame, it’s me,” Pierce coach Mark Brahmer said, “The kids here, they kept fighting, fought for every inch all the way to the end. We’re really proud of them. I wouldn’t trade a Pierce kid for anybody.”
The fumble came with just over six minutes left in the second quarter, a drive after Lakeview scored its first touchdown of the day. Michael Kruntorad cut outside on a carry and had the ball stripped away. Braxton Borer picked up the loose ball, then cut up field to make it a 17-0 game.
Pierce answered with a touchdown from Abram Scholting to Kruntorad on its ensuing drive to cut into Lakeview’s lead.
The Vikings answered with a drive that took them all the way inside the Pierce red zone, but the drive stalled at the 16.
Then they lined up for a field goal, but the holder — Adam Van Cleave — took the ball off the snap, rolled out to his left and found Turner Halvorsen in the end zone for a touchdown just before halftime.
“Everything that could’ve went against us in the first half went against us, but hats off to them, they played well,” Brahmer said. “They played hard. They had a good plan. They outcoached us and outplayed us.”
Pierce came out strong in the first half, as Scholting found Matt Christensen for a touchdown that made it a two-possession game.
Christensen — who transferred from Plainview after last season — also had 18 carries for 76 yards in the contest. The senior running back said he felt that he had a lot to be proud of.
“I couldn’t be more thankful for being in the position I am right now,” Christensen said. “It’s every kid’s dream to at least get here and to score a touchdown on Memorial field.”
Lakeview got another long drive going in response, but a fourth down interception thrown by Kolby Blaser gave Pierce the ball back at its own 2.
The Bluejays were forced into a three-and-out, but a fumble by Blaser was recovered by Scholting and gave Pierce the ball at its own 36.
Two plays later, Scholting was picked off by Van Cleave, who then scored on the Vikings’ next offensive play.
Van Cleave led the blue and gold with 14 carries for 73 yards to go with the touchdown run and the pass in the second quarter.
Lakeview was a two-point conversion away from beating Pierce on the road back in September. The loss was not only a big motivating factor, but also a measuring stick of sorts.
“Seeing them just let us know what we could do, that we could play with any team in the state,” Van Cleave said. “We had that 28-27 score in our heads for a lot of weeks after that.”
A touchdown run by Scholting and a pass from Scholting to Kruntorad on each of the Bluejays’ next two drives made it a one-possession game with just over six minutes left.
However, a face mask by the black and blue on the kickoff put the Vikings at their 42-yard line. Six plays later, Blaser ran in a touchdown that put the game on ice.
Lakeview coach Kurt Frenzen was proud of his team’s effort and how the players were able to take a message to heart.
“We talked (with the players) before the game, ‘You don’t deserve a state championship. You earn state championships.’ ” he said. “They were going to have to earn it against a very good Pierce football team today, and that’s exactly what they did."
The title is Lakeview’s first in program history.
Following the game, Brahmer was quick to point out the 11 seniors on his team. In junior high, they didn’t win a football game. In high school, they reached three state finals, something that had never been done at Pierce prior.
“They stayed with it and stayed with it and stayed with it,” Brahmer said. “The work ethic of that group and the character of that group is really almost like no other that I’ve had.”
Among those seniors — as well as those on the field for the final kneel-downs — was Colton Fritz, whose season was cut short by an ACL tear.
“Even if I still had to be on crutches, I was planning on suiting up,” Fritz said. “It’s the last time I can put pads on, and I wanted to embrace it.”
It wasn’t a situation he thought he’d be in when he first got hurt, let alone before the season started. Nevertheless, he’s thankful for the time spent with his teammates in the game.
“I always thought that I would be the one to lead the team to the state championship and God had other plans,” he said. “I’m very, very thankful that everything has worked out how it has and I’m very, very grateful for this team.”
Although losing the game will sting, and replacing those seniors will be a challenge, Brahmer is confident that his team can learn from this, so long as the players continue to keep their nose to the grindstone.
“Positive things happen to people who continue to persevere and work hard,” he said. “Sometimes, you’ve got to go through some adverse situations like we’re going through today to be able to get to where you want.”
Pierce completes its season 10-3 while Columbus Lakeview finishes 11-2. It’s the first time since 1984 that a Class C1 champion has had two or more losses.
Class C1 state final
Columbus Lakeview 3 21 7 6 — 37
Pierce 0 6 13 6 — 25
LAK: Mason Viergutz 33 field goal, 10:36.
LAK: Mason Viergutz 52 pass from Kolby Blaser (Mason Klug kick), 8:25.
LAK: Braxton Borer 56 fumble recovery (Viergutz kick), 7:03.
PIE: Michael Kruntorad 72 pass from Abram Scholting (PAT failed), 6:09.
LAK: Turner Halvorsen 16 pass from Adam Van Cleave (Klug kick), 0:39.
PIE: Matt Christensen 36 pass from Scholting (PAT failed), 9:19.
LAK: Van Cleave 21 run (Klug kick), 3:25.
PIE: Scholting 11 run (Keenan Valverde kick), 1:56.
PIE: Kruntorad 25 pass from Scholting (PAT failed), 6:01.
LAK: Blaser 10 run (PAT failed), 4:07.