KEARNEY, Neb. — Noah Okraska and David Reazola were kneeling with tear-stained faces, just as they were two years ago at Cope Stadium.
This time, their sobbing was joyful. Harvard won the Six Man state title after near-misses the past two years.
“We came in my sophomore year here and lost to Riverside, and it was a similar scene just like you saw. We were both crying in his arms,” Okraska said. “(David) told me, ‘I promise, we’re gonna outwork everybody and come back here’ and we both made that promise happen tonight.
“To know you were so close to something, fall short, and then clawing your way back, it’s the best feeling in the world, honestly.”
Okraska threw for five touchdowns, with younger brother Ben also tossing one, in the No. 1 Cardinals’ 50-33 win over No. 2 McCool Junction. Ethan Piper caught three of Noah’s five touchdown passes.
“We couldn’t get enough stops we needed to and every time I thought we had a stop, they broke a tackle,” McCool Junction coach Jarrod Weiss said. “They’re a good football team that is deserving of everything they get.”
Noah Okraska threw for 242 yards as he finished the 12-0 season with close to 1,600 yards passing and 33 touchdowns against just two interceptions.
McCool (11-1) had its passer, fleet Dana Hobbs, throw for 120 yards and run for 151. Unlike the Cardinals, the Mustangs couldn’t put back-to-back touchdowns together.
Extra points were the difference at halftime as Harvard led 30-27.
Then the Cardinals scored the first 20 of the second half. Noah Okraska threw to Ben for a 27-yarder and Piper for a 17-yarder, then Reazola had his second receiving touchdown of the game with the pass from Ben Okraska.
The Okraskas are the sons of Harvard coach Scott Trimble, who won six-man state championships at Arthur County during the 20 years the playoffs were outside the auspices of the NSAA.
“You know, my dad’s a genius,” Noah said. “He came up with a new defensive game plan, and you know, I think they just struggled blocking me and it left a lot of guys free to make plays. We battled through the physicality of how much bigger they were than us.”
Trimble said the Cardinals scrambled for a while trying to figure where to switch people around.
“Once we kind of found our groove of where we needed to be, then our defense was able to settle in,” he said. “They haven’t thrown the ball much all year and our goal was to make them a passing team and see if they could go that route because we knew they could beat you with their legs.”
Noah Okraska was happy he won a title with his dad and brother and that they joined older brothers as state champions. His dad was happy remembering how far Harvard has progressed after losing 21 straight in eight-man earlier in the decade before switching to six-man and reaching the final in 2017 and the semifinal last year with undefeated teams.
“It’s not just these kids,” he said. “It’s the kids who helped change the culture and change the mindset.”