Ah, opening night in high school football. When the grass never is greener, the uniforms never cleaner (turf fields aside) and everyone starts 0-0.
Thursday night is an appetizer for the larger slate of games Friday — topped by No. 2 Omaha North and No. 3 Omaha Creighton Prep on television (KXVO).
Gretna also plays its first game in Class A, visiting Millard South; Lincoln Pius X-Lincoln East begins the year at Seacrest Field; and Riverside, which won Six Man state titles each of its first four years of existence, takes a 37-game winning streak into its first eight-man game.
North-Prep, at Kinnick Stadium, is a matchup that could have been for the Class A title last year — except Kearney kicked a field goal on the last play to beat Prep in the semifinals.
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Prep returns 13 starters who have that bitter taste lingering. North returns 10 who have state champion medals. Only two of those 10 are on defense. How will the newcomers fare against a Prep offense that seeks a good run-pass ratio? How will they stay with their assignments and not overpursue?
Junior quarterback Reid Burke returns for the Junior Jays after breaking his arm in the first round of the playoffs. Luke Sims ran for 1,000 yards as a fullback — coach Tim Johnk’s college position at Nebraska — and guard Ryan Bena is one of three veterans on the line.
North has most of its hogs back, too, including 335-pound returning All-Nebraska first-teamer Mehki Butler. Zander Gray has rushed for 3,000 yards the past two years and only gotten half of the Vikings’ carries while Milton Sargbah was around. Now that Sargbah is honing his skills at Iowa Western, how much more will North coach Larry Martin call Gray’s number.
Which reminds me. North has had Prep’s number this decade.
Few teams ever have beaten the Junior Jays four times in a row like North, which won 38-17 in the 2012 semifinals, 47-14 and 41-0 (title game) in 2014 and 21-17 in 2015. This also is the first time since 1945, when Prep won 39-7, that North opened its season against the Junior Jays.
Gretna last played a Millard team in 1964, when the Dragons lost 40-0, when Millard South was Millard High and known as the Indians, not the Patriots.
It’s also the head coaching debut for Mike Kayl, who was promoted from the Gretna staff after Dave Shrader retired. Gretna was 11-1 last year with a semifinal loss to Omaha Skutt, and returns 10 starters.
Preseason No. 6 Millard South, 6-5 with a quarterfinal appearance last year, returns 11 and adds a receiving threat in junior Chase Perchal from 2017 Class C-2 champion Yutan.
New field in Macy
Omaha Nation will play its first game on the new turf of the Wade Miller Athletic Complex when the Chiefs host Weeping Water at 6 p.m. Friday. A traditional cedaring ceremony was performed Wednesday at the school in Macy to bless the complex before its first home game. The new facilities include the school’s first track oval, plus seating, press box and scoreboard.
“We now have one of the best facilities in the state of Nebraska for a school of our size,” Omaha Nation Athletic Director Brad Vogt said.
Throwback for Thayer Central
Going in the opposite direction is Thayer Central, which this season is honoring the silver anniversary of the Hebron Bears’ 1993 Class C-2 state runner-up season. In Friday’s game against Nebraska Christian, the Titans will be wearing throwback Hebron uniforms.
Those on the 1993 team have been invited to the game to carry the consolidated school’s shield and lead the current Titans onto the field. Thayer Central also includes students from Chester, Hubbell and Byron, towns that had a consolidated school before joining with Hebron.