A loss to Pierce in early September gave Ord a boost of confidence that has led the Chanticleers to their first state football playoffs championship game.
After that 58-42 loss, the Chanticleers have won nine consecutive games to earn a berth in Tuesday’s 2:45 p.m. Class C-1 title game against No. 1 Aurora at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln.
The Bluejays have been a traditional title contender in C-1, so that setback ended up being more of an eye-opener to the possibilities of how good Ord could be.
“That was kind of a turning point for us,” Chanticleers coach Nate Wells said. “We had played good football, but I don’t know that the kids knew how good they could be. We had a hard time stopping their offense, but offensively we could pretty much do whatever we wanted.
“We saw in the kids’ eyes after that game that they knew they were one of the best teams in C-1, and their confidence has grown from there.”
Confidence, leadership and accountability are things Wells and his staff have been working to build with the players the past four seasons. There is a leadership/unity council of eight players that meets every Sunday during the season, and Wells is thrilled they’ve met 13 times this season.
The past two seasons, there had only been nine sessions. Each of the past two seasons have ended with losses to Columbus Lakeview that kept Ord out of the playoffs.
After the 2017 loss to the Vikings, Wells challenged the kids to keep competing in winter and spring sports before putting in daily work during the summer months in the weight room.
“The last two years we’ve been a really good team, played some really good football, but we just had not learned how to finish,” Wells said. “One of the good things about the smaller schools is you can go out for other sports. We had 50 kids come out for track, and that’s the most we’ve ever had.
“They really took it to heart. They wanted to be great. Just their hard work and doing the right things off the field has led to the success we’ve had this year.”
Out of a spread offense that Wells said is similar to what Nebraska runs with a lot of zone-read and run-pass option plays, quarterback Jesse Ulrich has blossomed into one of the state’s best.
The 5-foot-11, 190-pound senior is Ord’s leading rusher with 1,310 yards and 22 touchdowns on 214 carries. He also has completed 109 of his 178 pass attempts (61.2 percent) for 1,575 yards and 15 touchdowns with five interceptions.
Jaden Reilly and Solomon Campise are Ulrich’s top two targets. Reilly leads the team in receptions with 35 for 425 yards and four touchdowns. Campise is the yardage leader with 595 on 30 catches and six touchdowns.
When Ulrich isn’t keeping the ball on a run-pass option play, Dalton Hurlburt is leading the charge at running back. The 5-10, 175-pound senior has 783 yards on 128 carries and nine touchdowns.
“Jesse is the heart and soul of our team,” Wells said. “He’s a three-year starter at quarterback, and that stability with him there means a lot. We changed our offense to fit his skills.
“He’s just a great dual-threat HS quarterback. He can run around you, he can run through you, and he’s become a much better passer. Last year he completed about 50 percent of his passes.”
Wells knows what it takes as a player to win a state football title. He was part of the 1993 team at North Loup-Scotia that won the Class D-1 championship. For Ord to win Tuesday, an important element will be trying to slow 6-foot-6 Aurora quarterback Baylor Scheierman.
“He’s just a player you don’t see in C-1 very often,” Wells said. “He’s so tall, he keeps his eyes down the field really well. Their receivers are fast, run good routes, and when he scrambles come back to him. A key for us will be to continue to cover when he scrambles.”
Wells likes the Chanticleers’ chances, especially with how well the players have been performing in both practices and games in recent weeks.
“They’re playing with so much confidence,” Wells said. “We’ve had the best practices we’ve always had, and the last six weeks have been incredible. We try to make practice harder than the games. Aurora is really good. We just have to keep battling.”
Aurora vs. Ord, 2:45 p.m.
Radio: KRGY (97.3, Aurora), KNLV (103.9. Ord), KXPN (1460, Kearney), KICS (1550, Hastings)
When No. 1 Aurora (12-0) has the ball: South Dakota State basketball signee Baylor Scheierman plays the last game of his record-smashing season — 3,734 yards, 55 touchdowns, 238 completions. His receivers are Cy Bullerman (1,021 yards, 11 TDs), Cade Reichardt (971, 14) and Jordan Stevenson (816, 13). When the Huskies do run, it’s Kaleb Moural with 767 yards and 14 TDs. Ethan Gabriel has 114 tackles, including four sacks. Ord has 17 interceptions and has allowed 14 points per game.
When No. 4 Ord (11-1) has the ball: Jesse Ulrich is a dual-threat quarterback with 1,310 yards rushing and 1,575 passing. Dalton Hurlburt has 783 yards rushing and Solomon Campise 595 yards receiving. Trevor Dvorak and Rylan Willis both have more than 100 tackles for Aurora, which has allowed 15.6 points per game.
Stu’s pick: Ord has won with defense, but the task here seems daunting. The weather should be good, which works in Scheierman’s favor. The Huskies go wire-to-wire this year. — Stu Pospisil