Battle Creek may be banged up, but if anything else, it's certainly battle-tested. That was apparent Friday night.
The Braves rode an opportunistic defense and took advantage of a big-time play on special teams to stun defending Class C2 champion Centennial in a 15-13 slugfest in Utica.
“It was definitely a defensive battle,” coach Andrew Carlson said.
That was an understatement.
It was a game that played right into his team's hands: an old-fashioned slugfest that was decided by turnovers and time of possession. Battle Creek won both of those, including four interceptions on defense, and won the game despite being outgained 411-206 in offensive yardage.
“We’d bend but didn’t break,” Carlson said. “They’d drive and then get a turnover. We forced four turnovers, and we had one.”
Reece Bode was pressed into a major role with typical No. 1 running back Dylan Mettler out due to an injury. Kadin Renner, who would normally be the No. 2 back, is limited to defense while trying to play through another injury.
Bode answered the call, carrying 36 times for 163 yards and a touchdown while helping the Braves maintain control offensively.
“Offensively, we didn't score a lot of points, but we played one of our stronger games offensively, without a doubt,” Carlson said. “Statistically, it’s not, but we really wanted to control the ball, and we did a good job with that time of possession and winning those battles at the line of scrimmage.
“We focused on short-yardage situations to extend drives, like third and short, and I thought on Friday night, we did a great job of winning those.”
Battle Creek gave up just two scores — one via a big play on the game's opening drive and one from a broken play in the third quarter.
“Going in, the game plan was to make them have sustained drives. That was something they hadn’t done,” Carlson said.
The game's deciding play, however, came early in the fourth quarter when a botched punt snap resulted in a safety that broke a 13-all tie.
“It felt like we were in control, but it didn’t show on the scoreboard,” Carlson said. “They’re a darn good football team. We’ve still got work to do. We’re by no means finished. We’re still improving.”
And now, all of a sudden, Battle Creek's schedule looks less daunting.
No team remaining has a winning record. The final six opponents have a grand total of two wins — O'Neill and Stanton have one each.
More than anything, those observations simply show how difficult the early-season schedule has been for all of the Class C2-3 district teams.
By now, most know about the conundrum facing Norfolk Catholic with four teams ranked in the top three of their class to begin the season, including Bancroft-Rosalie/Lyons-Decatur this week. Hartington Cedar Catholic (0-3) has faced BRLD and David City Aquinas as well.
“It’s hard to give a real answer,” Carlson said. “It seems like we're paired up with a lot of really good football teams. You look at who Norfolk Catholic has played, who Cedar has played up to this point, there are a lot of teams who are facing pretty quality opponents.”
Stanton (1-2) is the only District 3 team to have a win this season, having defeated Tekamah-Herman 22-6 in Week 2, and is coming off a 48-28 loss to North Bend Central. It opened with a 19-12 loss at David City, and the Mustangs host undefeated Fremont Bergan on Friday.
The other four teams in the district are a combined 0-12 so far this season. But look at how these teams have posted that record and what each faces this week:
— Three losses to unbeaten Class C No. 2 BRLD (No. 1 in Class C2 according to the Omaha World-Herald).
— Three losses to unbeaten Class C No. 3 Oakland-Craig (No. 4 in Class C2).
— Two losses to David City Aquinas (2-1), No. 3 in Class C2.
— Crofton (0-3) also has a loss to C2 No. 7 Bergan (3-0), and it faces Twin River (2-1) on Friday.
— Cedar Catholic (0-3) travels to David City (3-0) on Friday.
— Norfolk Catholic (0-3) also has losses to Class C No. 1 Pierce (3-0) and at C2 No. 2 St. Paul (3-0), and it hosts BRLD on Friday.
— Ponca (0-3) has the lone loss to a team without a winning record in Tekamah-Herman (1-2), and it hosts Aquinas on Friday.
“I think what you’re seeing a lot is more indicative of who they’ve been playing up to this point, and I think you could say that about a lot of the teams in our district,” Carlson said.
In Class C, everyone outside of No. 1 Pierce changed positions.
BRLD and Oakland-Craig flip-flop spots for the second time in as many weeks due to comparisons of scores between similar opponents. The Wolverines beat Crofton 58-22, a more impressive result than Oakland-Craig defeating the Warriors 28-0 in the season opener.
Battle Creek moves up a spot to fourth — ahead of undefeated North Bend — after the Braves' win over Centennial.
Valentine (2-1), which knocked off 2-0 Chadron on Friday, enters the ratings at sixth. Norfolk Catholic drops out after its third straight loss, and the Knights have been held out of the end zone in all but one quarter this season.
The Class D ratings did not change. The only rated team that lost was No. 4 Wakefield, which fell a two-point conversion short 30-28 against No. 3 Howells-Dodge.