In the days leading up to Friday's Class C2 semifinal bout, junior running back Karter Kerkman said Norfolk Catholic emphasized improving its rushing attack.

Kerkman certainly demonstrated that.

He gutted his way through the defense. He bounced runs to the outside. And, on two identical plays out of the wildcat formation, Kerkman raced to the left for touchdown runs.

"That was our point of emphasis all week, trying to get the running game back to where it was," he said.

The end result was just what the Knights had been dreaming of — their fourth trip to Memorial Stadium in the past seven seasons thanks to a 35-12 triumph over Wilber-Clatonia. Top-seeded Norfolk Catholic (11-1) will face top-ranked and second-seeded Fremont Bergan (12-0) in the Class C2 final.

"It's been a dream since I was a kid watching (Dylan) Kautz and (Ethan) Piper. They made it there three times, and I just wanted to play there, too," Kerkman said.

Kerkman finished with 25 carries for 270 yards and five touchdowns, accounting for 64.4% of an offense that tallied 417 yards. The plays of the game, though, perhaps came from the Knights on defense.

With just four seconds left in the first half and 3 yards away from pulling to within a touchdown, Wilber-Clatonia dialed up a swing pass to the outside to Tyson Kreschel. He caught the pass but was stopped just short of the goal line to end the half. That, combined with a missed field goal, preserved a first-half shutout for the Knights.

"I felt a little relief there that we did hold them out, and we started with the ball in the third," Norfolk Catholic coach Jeff Bellar said. "I was hoping that we would score, and then we were able to score and go up three scores."

Wilber-Clatonia coach Lynn Jurgens said that call changed the game.

"We thought we were in, and it sure looked like we were in," he said. "They didn't see it that way. We needed some calls that we didn't get."

Norfolk Catholic then got the ball first to begin the second half and took advantage, needing just four plays and 1:44 to get on the board again thanks to Kerkman scoring out of the wildcat formation. Wilber-Clatonia answered five minutes later, but Norfolk Catholic's defense then forced a fumble and an interception on consecutive offensive snaps.

"When you play a great team like Norfolk Catholic, it's tough to overcome that," Jurgens said.

The first takeaway, coming immediately after a Knights fumble, led to Kerkman breaking free down his own sideline for a 58-yard touchdown. The latter turnover led to the Knights' final score with just over 11 minutes to go for a commanding 35-6 advantage.

"Our line has blocked well all year," Kerkman said. "They continued to do it again tonight, and I can't be more thankful to run behind those guys."

Game notes

— It's the third state championship appearance in five seasons — and fourth in the past seven for the Knights. But Norfolk Catholic did not qualify for the playoffs in 2019 and lost in the first round last season, making this year's run even sweeter.

"I'm proud of these guys," Bellar said. "We have a combination of good senior leadership, but we have a lot of youth playing. We're playing some sophomores, a lot of juniors, so a good combination of a team fitting together and really playing well together as a team, and I think that's big."

— Had it not been for a kneel-down to end the game, Norfolk Catholic would have finished with 400 rushing yards. The Knights tallied 398 yards on 49 carries, averaging a gaudy 8.12 yards per carry. Norfolk Catholic completed just 2 of 5 passes for 19 yards.

— Wilber-Clatonia junior quarterback Coy Rosentreader was a difficult matchup for Norfolk Catholic. He finished with 111 rushing yards on 18 carries, and he was 11 of 27 passing for 199 yards. It was feast or famine for Wilber-Clatonia's passing game, though, as nine of its 11 pass completions went for 13 or more yards — and three for 30 yards or more each.

"They had a very mobile quarterback who could run, throw, move and make you miss," Bellar said. "He's very good. That concerned us. He hurt us a little at times tonight, but we did a good job of at least being complete and, for the most part, playing good defense all night."

Class C2 semifinal

W-C 0 0 6 6 — 12

NC 0 14 14 7 — 35

Scoring summary

SECOND QUARTER

NC: Karter Kerkman 8 run (Max Hammond kick), 8:29.

NC: Kerkman 44 run (Hammond kick), 1:25.

THIRD QUARTER

NC: Kerkman 19 run (Hammond kick), 10:16.

W-C: Coy Rosentreader 20 run (PAT failed), 5:16.

NC: Kerkman 58 run (Hammond kick), 2:27.

FOURTH QUARTER

NC: Kerkman 20 run (Hammond kick), 11:05.

W-C: Carter Skleba 1 run (pass failed), 8:27.

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