Of the three plays essential to Ralston's 22-14 victory over Omaha Gross Friday night, Josh Krzemien was on the starting end of each of them.
There was the senior quarterback's 30-yard strike to wideout Robert Cisar for a touchdown with 3:13 left in the third quarter that pulled the No. 3 Rams within a point of the rival Cougars (4-3). There was the quick-strike pass to running back Isaac Wallace for a two-point conversion to give Ralston a 15-14 lead.
Finally, after Wallace added a 9-yard insurance touchdown early in the fourth quarter, Krzemien — playing defensive back against a driving Cougar offense with just over a minute remaining — plucked a Matt Herting pass and sealed the Rams' seventh victory without a defeat.
“I kinda felt that when we were in a two-safety look like that, we were going to get a big turnover,” Krzemien said. “It was going to be me or one of our other DBs, but we were going to trust each other to make it happen. We needed it to happen.”
Especially in a second half when Gross hung in the game despite a mountain of Ram yards, first downs and points while the Cougars struggled to post 43 yards of total offense and two first downs.
The win marks the first time Ralston has gone 7-0 since 1976 and was an emotional one for the Ram seniors in their final home contest.
“I've had this game circled on my calendar since I was a freshman,” Krzemien said. “It just feels good to get the win.”
Gross went ahead 14-7 on a 46-yard run by Matthew Sullivan on the third play of the game and a 1-yard dive by Roman Andrews midway through the second quarter. But the Cougars were stymied by a smothering Ralston defense in the final two periods.
Ralston coach Tyler Zahn said he didn't think he'd have to say much to his players at halftime.
“They came right out and hit us in the mouth, like a defending state champ would,” Zahn said. “They had no fear. We had to come right back with the same attitude.”
Wallace, Class B's leading rusher with 1,354 yards, had two halves in roughly mirrored proportion, running for 104 yards in the first and 110 in the second, including the 9-yard touchdown run.
Wallace also had a 44-yard touchdown run negated coming off the Krzemien interception when the Rams were called for holding. Ralston was penalized five times in the final five minutes, keeping Cougar hopes alive.
“We made a few too many mistakes there to keep a good team in the ballgame,” Zahn said. “But our guys have a lot of fight in them and they kept their heads up.”
Krzemein's 73 second-half yards and 41 yards passing effectively turned the tide, along with Wallace's running and a stiffer defensive effort from the Ram front. Alex Wickert and Zach Flott harried Herting, each sacking him once in the second half.
Gross was missing injured Anthony Vigneri, one of its anchors on both sides of the ball, but a bevy of runners and defenders, including junior Roman Andrews and seniors Tyler Koraleski and Matthew Sullivan, moved in to fill the holes.
“I'm proud we had some guys step up,” Gross coach Tim Johnk said. “I'm just disappointed we didn't execute the way we needed to in the second half. We just didn't show up. But give Ralston credit. They're a great football team, and you have to give them their due.”
Omaha Gross (4-3) ............................ 7 7 0 0—14
At Ralston (7-0) ............................ 7 0 8 7—22
G: Matthew Sullivan 46 run (Jacob Herren kick)
R: Jacob Tamayo 5 run (Diego Gutierrez kick)
G: Roman Andrews 1 run (Herren kick)
R: Josh Krzemien 30 pass to Robert Cisar (Krzemien pass to Isaac Wallace)
R: Wallace 9 run (Gutierrez kick)
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Video: Ralston coach Tyler Zahn after the game