Imitation is flattery until the imitator tries to beat you.
Monday’s Eight Man-2 football final between Blue Hill and Bruning-Davenport/Shickley features teams running the same offensive scheme. That’s not a coincidence.
Blue Hill (12-0), in the playoffs for the 13th straight year, transitioned from 11- to eight-man football in 2014. Its first opponent was BDS (12-0).
Blue Hill coach Jon Coffey, then an assistant, was so impressed he decided to use the Eagles’ scheme that features almost exclusively direct snaps, either to the quarterback or running backs.
“It’s almost identical. It fits his personnel perfectly,” BDS co-coach Mark Rotter said. “We’re going to find out how much fun it is to defend it.”
Both teams have dual-threat quarterbacks who were at their best in semifinal victories. John Rouse ran for 290 yards with three touchdowns and threw two touchdown passes in Blue Hill’s 42-30 win over Mullen. John Christensen ran for 148 yards with two touchdowns and threw for 131 yards and three scores in the Eagles’ 50-16 rout of Falls City Sacred Heart.
“He’s a great athlete,” Coffey said of Christensen, “but they’ve got two great running backs (Thomas Mick and Garrett Schardt) so we’ve got to key on them, too.”
The Bobcats average 295 rushing yards a game, but in their past two games have thrown a bit more, gaining more than 150 yards in each. Maintaining that balance is the plan against a BDS defense so tough against the run that it forced Sacred Heart into 41 pass attempts.
As a passer, Rouse has 890 yards, 14 touchdowns and four interceptions. As a runner, he’s topped 1,400 yards with 25 touchdowns. Running back Lane Deisley also has 25 touchdowns. Those stats, Rotter said, are a product of how well Blue Hill blocks.
“They just beat on the opponent,” Rotter said. “Blocking requires sacrifice, and you can tell they buy into that. When they run the ball they’ve got seven guys blocking their tails off.”
Coffey is concerned about the Eagles’ ability to throw the ball to one of their offensive guards.
“We don’t see a lot of that,” Coffey said. “We play strictly man-to-man so we’ve got to make sure we’ve got everybody covered up.”
Christensen, a running back on the 2015 state championship team, moved to quarterback this season. He has strong legs, a strong arm and a strong mind, Rotter said.
“He’s extremely smart,” Rotter said. “He practices enunciation on the play calls in front of the mirror so he’s clear in the huddle. The kids tease him about it because of how he stresses his words.”
The schools have already met in a postseason game this month in Lincoln. BDS beat Blue Hill in the third-place game of the Class D-1 volleyball tournament on Nov. 11.
Though the football teams are also similar, they aren’t identical.
Blue Hill has an edge at kicker. Joe Macklin made all his extra points against Mullen, and kicked the winning field goal in the final seconds of a quarterfinal win against Twin Loup. BDS generally goes for two after each touchdown, though kicker Holden Stengel — much like Macklin — has produced many touchbacks kicking off.
“It’ll be interesting to see if either team gets to return one,” Rotter said.
BDS, in the playoffs for the 17th straight year, has experience in the finals. The Eagles are 47-3 the past four seasons, and will play in their third title game.
“These seniors have played 19 playoff games,” Rotter said. “That’s three extra seasons.”