LINCOLN — Wahoo powered down the high-powered Pierce rushing attack, and then Trevin Luben took over.
The result was probably the last thing anyone expected: Wahoo blanked Pierce 38-0 in the Class C1 state football championship at Memorial Stadium.
“It just wasn't our day,” Pierce coach Mark Brahmer said.
It was probably the most surprising result of any of the title games played over the two days in Lincoln, considering both teams had entered Tuesday's game with undefeated records, and that Pierce had averaged more than 400 rushing yards per game.
It was also a surprising result because of the amount of success the Bluejays enjoyed recently.
That success, Brahmer said, was a tribute to Pierce's 15-member senior class which, as sophomores, were big contributors to the team's run to the semifinals that year, which laid the groundwork for a 22-2 record over the last two seasons. That includes this season's final 12-1 record.
“They've meant a lot to our program. They were a big part of our turnaround,” Brahmer said. “Four years ago, we suffered through a 3-6 season, and then the next year, they got us to 7-5 and into the semifinals. And then last year, the quarterfinals being 10-1 and this year in the finals. It (today) doesn't take away from what they were able to accomplish, and really what this team was able to accomplish.”
In the next breath, Brahmer credited the rest of the team, too.
“It wasn't just our seniors,” he said. “Our juniors played really well throughout the year, and then we had some sophomores who stepped up and a few freshmen who played too.”
That surprising result came in large part because Wahoo simply shut down the Pierce run game — 85 yards on 30 carries kind of shut down.
On the other side, it was Luben's show most of the day. The Wahoo senior, who has committed to walk on at Nebraska, rushed 41 times for 268 yards and all five touchdowns scored in the game. As a team, the Warriors gained 342 rushing yards on 62 carries. When they did throw the ball, quarterback Thomas Waldo was 4 of 6 passing for 51 yards.
“Their quarterback did a nice job. He's a smooth player, and they've got guys on the perimeter who can run and are pretty strong,” Brahmer said.
It was similar to what Pierce was trying to accomplish, but several factors contributed to its passing game's demise. The team finished 3 of 8 passing for nine yards, and three passes were intercepted by Wahoo.
“We tried to,” he said. “We didn't do a good job at times with the protecting. We didn't give (quarterback) Dalton (Freeman) the time that he needed.”
Pierce gained three first downs the entire game. Wahoo finished with 20, and 19 of those were gained on the ground.
“It was a tough pill to swallow. Anytime you invest a lot of time and effort in something over the long haul, and you come up short like we did today and don't maybe play as well as you're capable of, it's going to hurt some. It hurts me as a coach some.”
Turnovers flip game
The teams combined for six yards total in the first four possessions until the momentum flipped.
First, it flipped in Pierce's favor when Luben muffed a punt and Carter Rohrich recovered at the Wahoo 11.
But almost as quickly, it flipped to Wahoo.
After a run netted a yard, Kole Bordovsky picked off a pass and raced down the Pierce sideline 78 yards until Rohrich caught Bordovsky at the 13. Luben then broke through up the middle for a one-play touchdown drive and a 7-0 lead.
“He does a nice job of turning his hips and getting sideways, and then he does a good job of running with power, too,” Brahmer said about Luben. “He's the perfect combination, and there's a reason he's run for 1,000 yards each year the last couple of years.”
Pierce got going with six runs resulting in a pair of first downs, but Luke Partridge made it back-to-back interceptions for Wahoo when he snagged a pass at the Wahoo 40, and the Warriors turned it into a Jesus Zaragoza 24-yard field goal.
Wahoo extended its lead further on a 15-play, 68-yard touchdown drive, and then turned a fumble recovery into a 27-yard touchdown march for a 24-0 halftime lead.
The brightest spot may have been a 69-yard punt by Dalton Freeman to pin Wahoo inside its own 1 late in the third quarter. But on the next play, Luben broke free for a 79-yard run to flip the field the other way, and Luben capped the drive six plays later on the first snap of the fourth quarter to give Wahoo a 31-0 lead.
Pierce senior lineman/linebacker Seth Valverde was injured at the 9:57 mark of the third quarter when he appeared to hit his head on the turf. Play was stopped for several minutes, and Valverde was eventually taken off the field in a stretcher.
Brahmer said that Valverde, who was coherent at the time, had neck pain and may have suffered whiplash.
“From what I was seeing, I think everything was going to be OK, hopefully, with him,” Brahmer said.
Pierce 0 0 0 0 — 0
Wahoo 10 14 0 14 — 38
WAH: Trevin Luben 13 run (Jesus Zaragoza kick), 6:56.
WAH: Zaragoza 24 field goal, 0:20.
WAH: Luben 2 run (Zaragoza kick), 4:00.
WAH: Luben 4 run (Zaragoza kick), 1:16.
WAH: Luben 3 run (Zaragoza kick), 11:56.
WAH: Luben 11 run (Zaragoza kick), 4:20.