GRAND ISLAND — Another strong dose of “Islander defense” proved to be an encouraging sign for Grand Island Senior High after Friday’s regular-season finale.
The Islanders returned two interceptions for touchdowns, giving the defense one more TD than it allowed in a 34-13 victory over Norfolk High at Memorial Stadium.
Those pick sixes by linebackers Augustin Atikpohou and Ben Francl came in the third quarter to help Grand Island (3-5) extend a 14-7 halftime advantage to 34-7.
“Our defense really held up,” Francl said. “It was a good night. Islander defense is tough, physical defense. The first few games it wasn’t there. These last few games, it clicked and we’re playing Islander defense now. It’s tough, physical football.”
Norfolk (1-7) managed six first downs the entire game but still found a way to hang close through the first half.
Things started to change on the opening possession after halftime when Atikpohou snagged a Jace Mohr pass and returned it 35 yards.
“I just did my job, really,” said Atikpohou, who also led the Islanders with four receptions for 64 yards. “Our defense did great and is doing its job.”
Then a pair of different outcomes on fourth-and-short plays really helped to turn the tide.
The Panthers couldn’t convert on a fourth-and-1 from their own 39. A 20-yard pass from Kytan Fyfe to Dylan Keolavone moved the ball to the 7, and on fourth-and-goal from the 3 Fyfe kept it himself and scored to give the Islanders a 28-7 lead.
On the second play of Norfolk’s next possession, it was Francl’s turn for a pick six from 23 yards out.
“We did a zone read, and I just dropped back into my zone,” Francl said. “He threw it right to me. I was surprised. I picked it off and stumbled over my teammate. I saw one of them coming after me so I pushed my teammate and headed into the end zone.”
Grand Island chose to have the strong wind to its back in the third quarter and made that decision pay off.
“When we came out in the third quarter and chose to bury it deep, we knew we’d have to score in that third quarter because the wind was going to come up even a little stronger,” coach Jeff Tomlin said. “We were able to get those two defensive touchdowns, which were big. Then Kytan’s touchdown on fourth down was big as well.”
Grand Island outgained the Panthers 345 yards to 126.
Atikpohou said the team wants to live up to the standards of “Islander defense.”
“It’s a tradition of teams for years before us, and we want to keep working harder,” he said. “We’re trying to play better defense.”
It was another tough outing for Norfolk and coach Tom Olson.
“It’s frustrating,” he said. “I thought the two pick sixes were big. But I thought the kids came in with a pretty good attitude. Like I told them (in the postgame huddle), I’ve never been 1-7 before. Yet I’ve had some 3-6 and some 4-5 teams that gave up a lot earlier than this team has. They just keep coming back and giving us a good effort.
“I guess the frustration is just that I felt we had some opportunities to do things. We had some mistakes at really critical times. I’m not just talking about pick sixes. I’m talking about missed blocks, missed assignments, missed tackles.”
Norfolk (1-7) 0 7 0 6 — 13
Grand Island (3-5) 7 7 20 0 — 34
GI: Brandon Fox 24 pas from Kytan Fyfe (Heider Alba Meda kick), 3:52.
GI: Beau Walker 1 run (Alba Meda kick), 11:11.
N: Payson Owen 2 run (Jacob Licking kick), 5:52.
GI: Augustin Atikpohou 35 interception return (Alba Meda kick), 10:33.
GI: Fyfe 3 run (Alba Meda kick), 5:45.
GI: Ben Francl 23 interception return (run failed), 4:58.
N: Licking 48 field goal, 11:42.
N: Licking 30 field goal, 2:42.
First downs 6 21
Rushes-yards 27-41 48-155
Passing yards 85 190
Comp-Att-Int 11-22-2 17-27-1
Punts-avg 6-40.0 1-26.0
Punt returns 0-0 3-29
Kickoff returns 2-40 1-19
Fumbles-lost 3-0 3-1
Penalties-yards 3-26 7-70
RUSHING: N, Payson Owen 21-41, Kaden Ternus 4-1, Jace Mohr 2-(minus 1). GI, Daylon Keolavone 9-64, Beau Walker 14-33, Jace Chrisman 7-29, Kytan Fyfe 5-27, Alex Dzingle 2-9, Ariel Hernandez 3-6, Cohen Evans 4-(minus 13).
PASSING: N, Beau Walkder 9-20-2 86, Kaden Terns 2-2-0 (minus 1). GI, Kytan Fyfe 16-26-1 184, Cohen Evans 1-1-0 6.
RECEIVING: N, Cale Wacker 3-14, Brayden Lammers 2-44, Jake Licking 2-15, Clayton Sharp 2-6, Tanner Stubbert 1-3, Paysen Owen 1-(minus 1). GI, Augustin Atikpohou 4-64, Brandon Fox 4-45, Beau Walker 3-28, Will Knuth 3-9, Daylon Keolavone 1-20, Cole Bauer 1-13, Braedon Aguilard 1-6, Marcus Holling 1-5.