To credit Norfolk High’s 21-20 come-from-behind overtime win over Omaha Central to one play or a single player would simply be inaccurate.
The Panthers won Friday night thanks to a number of significant plays by several different players, putting Norfolk a victory over Lincoln Pius X next Friday night away from qualifying for the Class A playoffs.
Tanner Thompson, Gage Dohren and Jace Monday all scored touchdowns — each in a different manner — while Josh Licking handled three PAT kicks, and when the Eagles went for a game-winning two-point conversion in overtime, the Panthers’ defense provided a stop of Central’s DeAnthony Bridgeford-Jackett a yard short of the goal line.
Norfolk’s touchdown in overtime came on fourth down and 2 as Monday followed two lead blockers into the end zone on a quarterback sweep to the right. Following Licking’s PAT, Bridgeford-Jackett put the ball in the end zone on the second of two-straight runs and Central coach Jay Landstrom had a decision to make — send kicker Sam Levy in to send the game into a second overtime or try a two-point conversion for the win.
The Eagles went for two, and when Bridgeford-Jackett was swarmed under a yard short of the goal line by a determined Norfolk front, the Panthers had a 21-20 win and new life in the playoff picture.
“We have four district games — Omaha South, Bellevue West, Omaha Central and Pius,” Norfolk coach Tom Olson said. “We win this next one against Pius and we’re in. It’s that simple, but it’s going to be a tough one — they pounded Central last week.”
The win over the Eagles appeared to be anything but simple during the first half when Norfolk was “shooting itself in the foot,” according to Olson.
The Panthers opened the game by covering 35 yards in four running plays by Brayden Splater, but back-to-back penalties had Norfolk looking at long yardage and the drive ended without points when Licking sent a 31-yard field goal attempt off the left upright.
“When you are playing well but don’t get points on the board, things can start to roll in the other direction,” Olson said. “I was really impressed with the way our kids came back and took care of some stuff.”
Central’s best chance for points was a 56-yard drive to open the second period — with Bridgeford-Jackett carrying the ball seven consecutive times for 43 of those yards — but Levy’s 30-yard field goal was short.
However, the Eagles did manage a touchdown with 33 seconds left in the half when quarterback Abraham Hoskins III scored from a yard out on a keeper to give Central a 7-0 lead at intermission.
Norfolk’s tying points arrived in the third period and were the result of a 16-yard punt return by Tyler Wilson that provided the Panthers with field position at Central’s 33, followed by three plays keyed by Monday.
Those plays included a 13-yard pass to Wilson after escaping three Eagles who made their way into the Norfolk backfield. Two more runs by Monday set up a swing pass to Thompson, who caught the ball in the backfield and outraced the Central secondary up the left-side boundary for a 16-yard touchdown that tied the score at 7-7 after three quarters of play.
Norfolk’s go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter featured two Monday-to-Dohren completions on third downs. The first, a 32-yard connection — on third and 10 — was a catch made while Dohren was running up the sideline. Then, two plays later, Monday found Dohren in the end zone on third and 7 for a leaping reception and 14-7 advantage.
“Those were two different defensive backs that Gage went against,” Olson said. “He makes those kinds of plays all the time, but on the second one, I noticed the free safety was squeezing over to the (other) side of the field and they were single covering Gage.”
Unfortunately, Omaha Central promptly marched 75 yards in 12 plays to tie the game at 14 on a 10-yard scoring pass from Hoskins III to tight end Dylan Baker.
One last Norfolk possession ended at midfield before Dohren’s interception in the end zone of an Eagles’ “Hail Mary” attempt with three seconds left sent the game into overtime.
Monday connected on 10 of 18 throws for 131 yards — with just 14 in the first half. Dohren’s 50 yards led Norfolk receivers. Meanwhile, Splater paced the Panthers rushing attack with 75 yards on 12 tries.
Bridgeford-Jackett finished with 127 yards rushing for Central, while Hoskins III completed 15 of 21 passes for 72 yards, with receiver Treveon Jones accounting for 35 of those yards.
“I’m very happy,” Olson said. “That was a great high school football game.”
Omaha Central (3-4) 0 7 0 7 6 — 20
Norfolk (3-4) 0 0 7 7 (7) — 21
OC: Abraham Hoskins III 1 run (Sam Levy kick), :33.
NO: Tanner Thompson 16 pass from Jace Monday (Josh Licking kick), 3:23.
NO: Gage Dohren 18 pass from Monday (Licking kick), 6:42.
OC: Dylan Baker 10 pass from Hoskins III (Levy kick), 1:26.
NO: Monday 2 run (Licking kick).
OC: Hoskins III 3 run (run failed).