As strange as it might sound, Plattsmouth football coach Bob Dzuris didn’t think his team was playing well through the first few weeks.
Why is that strange?
Because the Blue Devils outscored their first three opponents by a combined 119-7.
“You saw us kind of feeling our way through those games,” Dzuris said. “They weren’t our best efforts. After a couple of games, I think the seniors kind of realized that we could have something special on our hands.”
That much he can now say with full certainty.
Dzuris and Plattsmouth, Class B’s fifth-ranked team, punctuated the program’s best start in nearly four decades with a 50-49, double-overtime win last week over then-No. 3 Gretna.
The victory was sealed when Dzuris elected to go for two in the second extra session, rather than kick an extra point and head to a third overtime.
“I thought we were so tired that we wouldn’t be able to stop them,” he said. “Just to be able to be a part of that, that was fun. I got a kick out of that.”
And a big reason for all that fun was running back Gage Orton.
The 5-foot-11, 190-pound senior ran for 275 yards to bring him 54 yards short of 1,000 with three regular-season games remaining. And his five touchdowns against Gretna give him 15 on the year.
“It’s been crazy,” Orton said. “It’s crazy how getting everyone in the right places and doing the right things can make such a difference. It’s really turning into something good.”
Orton has turned from pure bruiser into a more well-rounded player, Dzuris said. In the past, he may have relied on his physical tools. There’s much more thinking in his game, according to his coach.
“He’s a much more mature football player,” Dzuris said. “Now that he has that maturity, he’s kind of put it all together. It’s been a great growth for him. And he’s just been so productive because of it.
“But bottom line, what makes him so good is just his desire to win. He knows what it’s like to get there and taste that success, the kind of hard work and mental toughness it takes to get there.”
That comes from back-to-back trips to the state finals in wrestling. Orton was the Class B runner-up in 2014 at 160 pounds. As a junior, he reached the 170-pound title match as the Blue Devils finished third in the team race, just three points behind power program Omaha Skutt.
Orton isn’t quite sure which route he plans to go in college. He’s always been a football player, and he quickly took to wrestling in the third grade.
“It came naturally,” Orton said.
He’s part of a senior-laden Blue Devil group. Orton is joined in the backfield by senior quarterback Dawson Siemonsma, and the two operate behind an entirely senior offensive line. Dzuris said the same can be said for the defensive line, too.
Being experienced up front allows for much more than just turning and handing off to Orton, Dzuris added.
“In the past, we’ve maybe had to lean on him,” the coach said. “We have options now.”
Success — and excitement around town — hasn’t gone to the heads of his players, Dzuris said. In fact, this week’s practices were some of the best this season.
“I might of even had a deeper bark,” Dzuris said with a laugh. “Practices are really fun right now.”
The Blue Devils have used the excitement as a positive.
“When we first got ranked, I think instead of being proud of themselves they kind of embraced it,” Dzuris said. “They wanted to take it to another level, and we’ve kind of done that the last few weeks here. They want to see how far they can take things.”
That will be decided in the coming weeks, starting with Friday’s home game against Platteview. After that are contests against Nebraska City and Waverly. The three have a combined record of 6-12 entering play Friday.
Wins beyond the regular season are something the Blue Devils haven’t experienced in quite some time. They’ve lost eight straight in the playoffs, with the last postseason win coming in 1979.
Plattsmouth missed out on the playoffs last season, snapping a string of five straight postseason appearances.
“We’re not looking past this game,” Dzuris said. “To set ourselves up for the very best possible scenario, we have to take care of business this week.”
That doesn’t mean they aren’t thinking big, though.
“We sat down a while back with this group and laid out some goals,” Dzuris said. “And they’re coming to fruition. If you looked into the players’ eyes and heard them talk, they don’t talk just idly or cheaply about winning a championship.
“I can tell it’s something that excites them. I can tell it’s something they dream about.”
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