In what started off as a slugfest between two historic rivals, explosive plays made the difference as the Class C No. 2 Norfolk Catholic Knights beat the No. 3 Battle Creek Braves 28-7 on Thursday night at Veterans Memorial Field.

“They played real well,” Norfolk Catholic coach Jeff Bellar said of Battle Creek. “I think that’s a very good football team we played.”

Following an interception by Boden Obst on Norfolk Catholic’s first drive of the third quarter, Battle Creek got down to the Knights’ 36-yard line with a chance to tie the game.

The next two plays were an incompletion by Jaxon Mettler and a run for no gain by Trent Uhlir. The play that followed was an interception thrown by Mettler to Max Hammond, who took it 64 yards for a touchdown.

Battle Creek got on the board on its ensuing drive, when Uhlir capped off a seven-play, 65-yard drive with a touchdown run to make it 14-7.

Karter Kerkman responded in kind, scoring on a 37-yard touchdown run to put the red and white back up by two possessions with 44 seconds left in the third.

Following a Braves three-and-out, the Knights found themselves with third-and-2 at their own 46 midway through the fourth.

Kerkman got the call again. He took the handoff left, made a defender miss and outran another en route to a 54-yard touchdown.

All told, the senior running back had 173 yards on 17 carries to go with his two scores.

The 7-0 halftime score was the closest for Norfolk Catholic this season since its week one game at Oakland-Craig. The team led that one 13-6 at the break before winning 37-12.

For Kerkman and the Knights, being able to stay strong and pull through came from tapping into what they knew they were capable of, even against a tough opponent.

“We just knew that coming into this game, it was going to be a good one all game,” Kerkman said. “We weren't really happy with how we performed in the first half, but we knew that we could come out and perform a little better in the second half and that’s what we did.”

Norfolk Catholic had five total plays that went for more than 20 yards, including all four of its touchdowns. Battle Creek had four, three on offense and the interception by Obst that was returned 20 yards.

Coach Andrew Carlson said he felt his Braves had chances to stop or limit those plays but couldn’t convert.

“We just said we couldn’t give up those yards after contact,” he said. “If you look at most of those plays, we had hands on them, we just didn’t get them down and it got back to us.”

After more than 12 minutes of scoreless football, the first big one came on the third play of the second quarter. Quarterback Carter Janssen dipped a screen pass off to Kerkman, who evaded defenders and broke free for a 63-yard touchdown to make it 7-0.

Janssen completed five of his nine passes for 104 yards, a touchdown and an interception. He also had 13 carries for 90 yards.

After exchanging three and outs to follow, Battle Creek managed to get down to the Norfolk Catholic 36 with 11 seconds left in the first half. Mettler threw an incomplete pass, then got sacked by Ethan Reardon to end it.

Thursday night was another chapter in a strong rivalry between the teams. They have 14 state championships between them and have faced off in the state playoffs seven times. Heading into Thursday, the Knights and Braves were ranked No. 1 and No. 3 in Class C2, respectively, by the Omaha World-Herald.

It was great for Bellar to be able to add on to the story once again.

“I can think back to 1985 when Bob Schnitzler was standing over there and I was a little intimidated at that time playing against him,” he said. “We’ve had many, many good football games. We haven’t always played, but anytime we play, the kids are friends, but for 48 minutes, they get after each other.”

Carlson said he felt the Fightin’ River came out and competed hard while showing improvement, but there’s still a lot of work to do in a short period of time.

“Earlier in the year, we had a lot of self-inflicted wounds and it really killed us with turnovers and untimely penalties and I think we’re getting better at that,” he said. “Defensively, at times we looked pretty good and then there’s times when their athletes made plays and we didn’t.

“We’ve just got to keep working. It’s not going to get any easier.”

Both teams return to action on Friday, Oct. 7. Norfolk Catholic hits the road to face Ponca while Battle Creek hosts Hartington Cedar Catholic.

Battle Creek (4-2) 0 0 7 0 — 7

Norfolk Catholic (6-0) 0 7 14 7 — 28

Scoring summary

SECOND QUARTER

NC: Karter Kerkman 63-yard pass from Carter Janssen (Max Hammond kick) 7:49.

THIRD QUARTER

NC: Hammond 64 interception return (Hammond kick) 5:33.

BC: Trent Uhlir 11 run (Cameron Korth kick) 4:02.

NC: Kerkman 37 run (Hammond kick) 0:44.

FOURTH QUARTER

NC: Kerkman 54 run (Hammond kick) 6:37.

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