Football Friday’s Battle of Maple Street

Elkhorn High took year two of the rivalry over Elkhorn North in convincing fashion


Photo by Alicia Hernandez

The Elkhorn North offensive line faces up against the Elkhorn defensive line

Long story short: the Antlers were perfect, the Wolves were not. That’s it. That’s the article right there. That’s what went down on Friday night at Elkhorn Stadium where the two football teams met on the gridiron for the second time. Elkhorn defeated Elkhorn North 35-12 on senior night for the Wolves.

Ok, let’s elaborate a little more because there was certainly more to the story than that. Even though it may not have seemed like it, the Wolves walked out of the night with some positives to build on. However, it was all Elkhorn in this one, and they decisively bounced back after coming off of a 49-14 blowout loss to Class B number one ranked Bennington the previous week.

The game started with the Antlers receiving the opening kick. The temperature was a chilly but manageable 64 degrees with a light wind. The atmosphere was incredible with massive student sections on both sides and fans packing the stadium tight. 

The Wolves’ defense looked stellar in its first drive, forcing Elkhorn to barely convert on two fourth down tries. But after the second fourth down conversion, Elkhorn’s Hank Kroger, turned on the jets in the open field and scored a thirty-six yard touchdown with ease, giving Elkhorn a 7-0 lead with a Cole Houck PAT.

After that, it was like clockwork for the Antler offense. They didn’t see a possession that didn’t result in a touchdown until midway through the fourth quarter. 

That’s unheard of. However, it’s a testament to the Antler offense and the way they work. They grind out yardage on the ground, burn clock, and run down opposing defenses through time of possession. It’s honestly a thing of beauty, and it’s what has gotten them so many wins in games that went right down to the wire this year.

Elkhorn went on to score four more touchdowns the rest of the game, including TDs from Dane Peterson and Mikey Hart. The Antler defense also returned to its norm as one of the best in Class B. It makes things a bit easier on them when they aren’t having to tackle Bennington’s Dylan Mostek every play, who last week had the seventh most rushing yards in the nation and accumulated another 302 yards this week against Roncalli to put him at 1,976 yards on the season. 

But that’s a story for another time, and a worry that Elkhorn will probably have to face again down the road.

The Wolves’ defense tackles an Antler ball carrier (Photo by Alicia Hernandez)

The entire Antler team also benefited heavily from a thin Elkhorn North squad that has been plagued by injuries the last few weeks. The Wolves were without key players like Kyree Bennett, Sutton Johnson, Jake Siedschlag, Chris Thiessen, and Tommy Meckna just to name a few. This season’s prodigy, senior quarterback Easton Mains, who happens to be in the top five in Class B for rushing yards this year (as a quarterback!), was also out for most of the second half, which was a killer for the Wolves as he entered the concussion tent. We can’t forget to mention speedy running back Christian Young, who has been out most of the season. To Elkhorn’s advantage, the only injury they had was star running back Braylon Johnson, who has been out since week one. 

I mean, let’s be honest. We can praise the Antlers all day long, but this game would have been closer if the Wolves were healthy. You put Bennett, Johnson, and Siedschlag all in the game, along with a playable Easton Mains, and the Wolves are suddenly much more competitive. Unfortunately, sports, especially football, work that way, and Elkhorn North had to take the brunt of the injuries this week.

Despite the overall feeling left at Elkhorn Stadium on Friday night, the Wolves did scrap for some positives. The young guys were present on both sides for most of the fourth quarter, and the Wolves had some good moments towards the end of the game. Let’s not forget that Elkhorn North’s JV squad defeated Elkhorn earlier in the week which could be a precursor to the future. 

“I was extremely proud of our younger guys,” Elkhorn North Junior lineman Cole Sharar said. “With the injury bug that hit us last week, we needed some young guys to step up for us, and watching some of those sophomores light up kids gave me confidence in the future of this program.”

This was true as the Wolves outscored the Antlers 12-0 in the fourth quarter, including a touchdown pass from backup quarterback Josh Basilevac to sophomore Johnny Ferguson who played his first varsity game of his life as the starting running back on Friday night. Yes, he has been a JV quarterback all season behind Basilevac. I don’t think Ferguson thought he would be the starting back for the Wolves against Elkhorn at the beginning of the season, but sometimes your name is called in strange ways, and he played very well considering the circumstances.

Basilevac looked great as the Wolves’ quarterback in the second half, following a game against Mount Michael the previous week in which he was one of the only bright spots for Elkhorn North’s effort. He throws a great ball, can scramble when he needs to, and stays comfortable in the pocket. With even more improvement over the offseason, he has the potential to have an exceptional season next year.

And let’s not forget that these seniors played their last game ever at Elkhorn Stadium. They played their hearts out even though the game was going to be very tough for them to win from the start. Easton Mains finished off his tenure at the field, having some incredible games there this year including a 41-40 shootout loss to Beatrice and a  substantial 35-21 victory over Ralston. He made a significant impact in the founding years of the Elkhorn North football program.

“Overall, I felt like the game didn’t show who we are as a team,” Wolves’ Junior Receiver Billy Hendryx said. “We had players out that would have been crucial for our success.”

Indeed, as mentioned earlier, injuries unfortunately played a big role in what was already going to be a tough game for Elkhorn North.

With the win, the Antlers improve to 7-1 on the season, and the Wolves drop to 1-7. Elkhorn now leads the series 2-0, but the future looks bright for Elkhorn North. 

As we look ahead to the end of the season, Elkhorn has its game of the year this coming Friday. They will play Skutt at Elkhorn Stadium again, which has postseason implications on the line. Whoever wins that game will likely be on the opposite side of Bennington in the state tournament bracket. Whoever loses will probably have to do the dirty work against Bennington which is currently in a tier above the rest of Class B. This is a huge game. It’ll without a doubt be an exciting one Friday night as last year’s game ended with a defensive stand that will be remembered for the ages, as Elkhorn stopped Skutt on the one yard line allowing for a 24-21 Antler victory. We’ll see what happens this time around. 

Elkhorn North, meanwhile, will travel to Roncalli on Thursday to cap off the season. This is a winnable game, but it will be tough if the Wolves can’t get any healthier over the week. It will be the last game for the seniors on this team, and they will play with an Elkhorn North uniform one last time. 

“One final ride with the seniors; better make it a good one,” Hendryx said.