Monday Rewind: Missed Opportunity, Lessons Learned

Grand Island Northwest erased an Elkhorn North 20-3 halftime lead to hand the Wolves their first loss of the season


After steaming past its first three opponents to amass a 3-0 record to start the season, Elkhorn North suffered its first defeat to Grand Island Northwest with a score of 24-20. The Wolves, after having dominated the entire first half, proceeded to give up 21 unanswered points in the second half and were limited to putting no more points on the board against a relentless GI Northwest defense. 

The Wolves entered this game fresh off of a commanding 40-7 victory over Crete. Sitting at 3-0, Elkhorn North knew it would face its toughest opponent yet, albeit against a GI Northwest team that entered Friday’s match-up with a record of 0-3. The Vikings’ record certainly hasn’t told the story, as they faced two Class B top ten teams in Skutt and Seward and also opened the season against one of the best teams in Class C-1 in Aurora, a usual Class B contender which moved down just this year, Thus, the Vikings haven’t had it easy, but they found a way to compile a monster second half to obtain the victory.

The game began with the Wolves taking the wheel. Tommy Meckna intercepted a pass from Vikings Quarterback Austin Payne and took it all the way to the house to score Elkhorn North’s first touchdown within the first 45 seconds of the match-up. The PAT was missed and the Wolves led 6-0.

GI Northwest took over and was stuffed for a quick three-and-out by a Wolves defense which has been spectacular since week one. The Vikings punted but an Elkhorn North fumble on the return set up a GI Northwest field goal soon after. The score was 6-3, Elkhorn North leading. It would be the only time the Vikings would score in the first half.

Josh Basilevac continued his terrific quarterback play in game four and extended the Elkhorn North lead with a 32 yard touchdown run, composed of several broken tackles, to make the score 13-3 in favor of the Wolves at the end of the first quarter. 

The second quarter was fairly low-volume, but a Ryan Kennedy touchdown run from 15 yards out with 1:29 to go gave Elkhorn North a 20-3 lead at halftime.

Payne threw three interceptions in the first half. The Wolves had all the momentum. GI Northwest would need a magical turnaround in the second half and, somehow, they did just that. 

The Vikings forced a quick three-and-out to begin the third quarter and a short punt from Elkhorn North set up GI Northwest with quality field position. An efficient drive primed Tyler Douglass’s 8 yard touchdown run as the Vikings finally threw their first real punch of the game. The Wolves, however, still led 20-10. A little under ten minutes remained in the third quarter.

For the majority of the remainder of the game, the two teams would go back-and-forth without scoring. GI Northwest strung together some methodical drives, only to be shut down by a fumble, a couple of turnovers on downs, and a Christian Young field goal block. The Wolves’ secondary also played a phenomenal game, severely limiting the GI Northwest passing attack. On the flip side, Elkhorn North had opportunities to extend its lead, but couldn’t muster enough to compile any more points. An inspiring effort by a stout Vikings defense proved to be too much for the Wolves in the second half, including a massive goal line stop midway through the third quarter.

The turning point occurred when GI Northwest’s Victor Isele blocked an Elkhorn North punt to give the Vikings the football inside the Elkhorn North fifteen yard line with 4:06 to go in the game. A huge offensive line push gave Payne the means to punch it in from the 1 yard line. The score was 20-17, as the Wolves maintained a fragile lead with 3:21 to go in the game. 

The ensuing kickoff pinned Elkhorn North inside its own ten yard line. The Vikings made quick work and forced another three-and-out and a punt. GI Northwest was set up with excellent field position from the Elkhorn North 48 yard line with 2:15 to go.

An Austin Payne 14 yard touchdown run finally gave GI Northwest the lead, 24-20, with 40.3 seconds to go. The Wolves got the ball back, but were unable to march down the field. The Vikings secured their first win of the season while the Wolves dropped to 3-1.

While Elkhorn North’s loss feels like a missed opportunity as the Wolves led 20-3 at halftime, there are several positives to take away.

First of all, they now have the chance to face some adversity and be resilient through the process. When the Wolves go up against teams like Elkhorn and Bennington, they will have the experience of facing the obstacles that they did in this game.

On top of that, Elkhorn North can learn a lot from this loss. GI Northwest is a good football team and has been for several years. Austin Payne is a very gritty quarterback and easily the toughest the Wolves have faced yet. He found ways to make plays even with the Elkhorn North defensive line putting up relentless pressure all day. On the opposite side of the ball, GI Northwest made life difficult on the Wolves’ offense all day. Playing a tough team like the Vikings will be able to teach Elkhorn North valuable lessons that it will take going forward.

Ultimately, losses are never fun, especially when leading substantially at the half. However, it may end up being a good thing for Elkhorn North in the long run. Time will tell.

The Wolves are back at it this Thursday at home against Omaha Westview (1-3) at 7:00 p.m.