We made it. Somehow, some way, we have made it to the end of the football season.
Sure, it has had more than its share of metaphorical missed blocks and scramble-drill passes, but we're still here, and we're darned thankful of it.
This is typically the time of year to give thanks, and in a year that has been so tough on all of us, I believe it's more important now than ever to be grateful for what we do have.
Mark Brahmer certainly gets it. The longtime coach gets one more chance to lead Pierce onto its home field this season when the Bluejays kick off against Adams Central in the Class C1 state championship game that will be played at the Pierce High Athletic Complex. It's the fourth straight home game for Pierce this postseason.
"I think the good Lord is finally allowing us to just stay home and he's just saying, 'You know, you've been on the road enough, and we'll give you a break here,' " Brahmer said somewhat lightheartedly.
He's hoping for a big-time atmosphere — not to thumb a nose at the COVID-19 pandemic but to recognize that, even in what has been a difficult year for so many, there's still reason to celebrate.
"We hope a lot of people from area communities will come and watch football," he said. "It's the last high school football game of the year, obviously, and with all of the things that people have been going through over the last eight or nine months, I think it's a celebration of the spirit of the people in Northeast Nebraska ... in terms of just perseverance, toughness and resilience to every day work as hard as you can and work to your potential."
For the first time since 1989, and the second time in school history, Pierce will host a state championship game. And if Brahmer had his way, high schools would continue to host even after the attendance restrictions related to COVID-19 are lifted.
"That's where, personally, I think state championship games belong," he said. "I like Memorial Stadium. I probably liked it more when I was young coaching in it, when I was 30 or whatever. But now, as I've gotten a little bit older as a coach, I really think that, in the smaller communities, especially Class B and below, that's where the championship games belong."
Brahmer's just saying that because his program is hosting a game, right?
"I would be supportive of that even if I had to go on the road and play at somebody else's place," he said. "We do that every other week. So why not just do it every single week, including the championship?"
His biggest issue is logistics.
There are travel arrangements to be made, including the dilemma of whether to have the team stay in a hotel if it's an early game, such as the 10:15 a.m. kickoff Pierce had last season. All of the gear for the players — such as helmets, shoulder pads, knee and thigh pads, jerseys and pants — needs to make the trip as well. And don't forget the equipment crate and medical kit.
If you don't travel down the night before, it's an early wakeup that most people, let alone high school kids, don't have to make.
"If you kick it off at noon or 1 p.m., or anytime before that, you're having to go down there the night before and spending the night," he said. "Otherwise you're waking guys up at 4:30 a.m. to have a meal, do a walk-through, get on a bus, drive 2 hours and 45 minutes, and then. ... In football, it's different from other sports. You've got to get all your gear, get all your gear on, get taped, got to have your pregame meetings, got your meetings ... it's a large process."
Brahmer compared that process to a military operation.
"It's like moving a danged M.A.S.H unit, or an entire platoon, or more," he said. "To be able to just go here (in Pierce), obviously, we feel really blessed. We can stay in our regular routine, guys can sleep in their own beds the night before, and you don't have to deal with the entire mess of going down there."
He admitted there's a certain mystique to be able to play or coach at the home of the Huskers, but he believes most players already make their memories on their home fields anyway.
"Yes, it's neat for the young men to be able to play in that stadium. Most guys in Nebraska won't have an opportunity to ever play there," Brahmer said. "But at the same time, I think this is where memories are going to be made — on the hometown fields."
He then brought up something that the Nebraska School Activities Association might note when they examine the details surrounding football championships at home sites.
"I think you're going to see bigger crowds," he said. "People who definitely couldn't travel to Lincoln to watch this game at 2 p.m. on the Tuesday of Thanksgiving week will be able to get off work at 5 p.m., drive a short drive here to Pierce and watch this game. We're hopeful to have a big crowd and an electric atmosphere."
There's also that holiday next week. Whatever your views have been lately, whether it's the pandemic or the election or race relations or something else, it's time to unite and make progress.
"Hopefully people will want to come out and celebrate and be thankful — since we're heading into Thanksgiving week — for the blessings that we've gotten in our lives and what the good Lord has done for us, not only in school and our activities, but continue to move us forward as a nation," he said.
I'm thankful that I have the opportunity to make prep football picks one more time this season. Let's dive into Friday's feast of championship games.
Last week’s results
Record: 1-1 last week, 90-33 (.732 percentage) this season.
Pierce 21, St. Paul 14 (49-42 predicted): I really, really thought there would be a lot more offense in this game. But sometimes, the best defense is a ball-control offense that can chew up yardage and keep the clock running. There's no shame in winning that way.
Ord 38, Oakland-Craig 28 (O-C 24-17 predicted): I really, really thought Oakland-Craig was going to win this game. But once I saw how well the tandem of Tommy Stevens and Zach Smith for Ord broke chunk plays consistently, I knew it was going to be a long day.
This week’s picks
Elkhorn South (10-1) at Omaha Westside (11-0): This year was supposed to be all about a Bellevue West-Omaha Westside rematch, but Kearney scuttled those plans, and then Elkhorn South took care of Kearney. I don't think the Storm can match the Warriors offensively, whether it be running back Dominic Rezac, wide receiver Avante Dickerson or quarterback Cole Payton. Westside 37, Elkhorn South 27.
Aurora (9-3) at Elkhorn (10-2): Class B has been crazy this year with five total losses by the teams that have survived to reach the championship. There has been no clear-cut No. 1 all year. My gut feeling is that this will be a close game to the end. Aurora 29, Elkhorn 25.
Adams Central (10-2) at Pierce (11-0): You can bet the visiting Patriots haven't forgotten last year's semifinals, when Pierce ran roughshod over Adams Central 54-14. But that won't matter. Pierce is on a mission to finish the job that didn't get done last year. What has impressed me most is the growth of sophomore quarterback Abram Scholting — who has a talented rushing attack, receiving corps and offensive line to support him. Perhaps more impressive has been the defense, which shut down a stout St. Paul offense last week. Pierce 34, Adams Central 24.
Ord (12-0) at Fremont Bergan (12-0): Just what you want in a championship game, two undefeated teams playing for the top prize — right? Sure, we in Northeast Nebraska would have liked to see Oakland-Craig in this game instead, but if not the Knights, at least the two teams that beat them this season. I'm going to go with the guys in central Nebraska to win the title. Ord 28, Fremont Bergan 21.
Dundy County-Stratton (11-0) at Burwell (12-0): It's like Groundhog Day — another year, another Burwell team in the finals. The Longhorns had to survive a couple of one-point thrillers to get to this point, while DCS has been rolling pretty much all season. Burwell is in its fifth state title game in six years, but the Longhorns have won only one title in that time. DCS 36, Burwell 31.
Sandhills/Thedford (12-0) at Bruning-Davenport/Shickley (11-0): Sandhills/Thedford served notice when it knocked off perennial power Falls City Sacred Heart in the semifinals, but BDS has been a different animal all year against the rest of D2. BDS 42, Sandhills/Thedford 28.
Sterling (11-0) vs. McCool Junction (12-0): The only state championship game at its original date, time and site is the six-man final that will still be played Friday on the University of Nebraska at Kearney campus. Both teams are undefeated, which should make for an entertaining championship game. I'll take the preseason No. 1 Mustangs in this one. McCool Junction 50, Sterling 41.