YODER – Junior Cord Herring put the Southeast Cyclones on his back and carried them to a 47-20 victory over the Niobrara County Tigers in Friday’s Class 1A 9-Man state championship game – the school’s first state title since 2012.
“That was a wild one,” Southeast coach Mark Bullington said laughing.
Herring rushed for five touchdowns – including four in the second half – and 151 yards, as well as recorded eight tackles on the defensive side of the ball.
“We couldn’t get what we normally get going, going. They did a great job of slowing that down,” Herring said. “We’ve had success running it with our fullback with Ryan and Brant running downhill at them. We couldn’t get that going. We got Bodie in as my lead back and our lineman were blowing holes open. All Bodie had to do was lead for me.”
Through the first half, it was a back-and-forth affair.
After teams traded possessions on their opening possessions, the visiting Tigers were first on the scoreboard midway through the first quarter, taking advantage of a Cyclone fumble.
“That first turnover we had – it was like wow,” Southeast coach Mark Bullington said. “We shot ourselves in the foot so many times. They endured. They battled back. They believed they could do it.”
Lusk quarterback Aric Eaton connected with Mason Wells on a 33-yard touchdown, handing the NCHS a 6-0 lead.
On the ensuing drive, the Southeast offense started moving the ball.
An acrobatic catch by a diving senior tight Bodie Herring and a successful hard-count by senior quarterback Hayden Anderson, getting the Tiger defense to jump offsides gave the Cyclones the ball at the Tiger 7-yard line.
Anderson punched the ball into the end zone to tie the game at six.
Each team punted on their ensuing possessions, but a fumble by Lusk senior running back Drake Lamp gave the Cyclones the ball back at the Tiger 28-yard line.
It took three runs by Cord Herring out of the Wildcat formation to give Southeast its first lead of the day.
Lusk answered with an eight-plus minute, 18-play drive to give the Tigers a 14-13 lead heading into halftime.
“We got into halftime and the coaches calmed us down,” Cord Herring said. “Coach (Shawn) Burkhart had a great plan to slow their running attack down.”
NCHS got the ball to start the second half, and it didn’t take long for Lamp to break free from the Southeast defense and sprint 65 yards to the end zone, growing the Tiger lead to 22-13.
With 6:03 remaining in the third, Cord Herring scored his second touchdown of the game to draw the Cyclones back within two.
Two minutes later, the Cyclones took advantage of another Tiger fumble, and Herring found the end zone for the third time on the evening, putting Southeast back on top 27-22.
After a third Lusk fumble, Southeast gave the ball right back the Tigers, and NCHS marched right back down the field.
On the final play of the third quarter, Lamp powered his way to a touchdown, giving Lusk a 28-27 lead heading into the final 12 minutes of the game.
The fourth quarter proved to be all Southeast.
Cord Herring found the end zone on two more occasions, and junior Ryan Clapper got in on the scoring with a 31-yard sprint with 4:33 remaining in the game
On the defensive side of the ball, the Cyclones forced three more Lusk turnovers – turnover on downs, a fumble and an interception by senior Reece Robertson.
In all, Southeast forced five turnovers and allowed 337 yards of offense. Senior Harrison Hall led the Cyclones with nine tackles.
“Our whole defense played well. Kirk Kay did a great job at tackle,” Bullington said. “Our d-ends and our outside linebackers – it was a full team effort. They did an awesome job.”
In addition to Cord Herring’s 151 yards of rushing on 23 carriers, Clapper added 91 yards on eight attempts, while Anderson had 67 yards on 13 tries. Anderson was also 6-of-10 passing for 77 yards. Bodie Herring was the quarterback’s top target with three receptions and 52 yards.
The championship also marks the end of the careers of eight seniors – Brant Fullmer, Anderson, Robertson, Hall, Sawyer Anderson, Ethan Steinhausen, Durward Randall and Bodie Herring.
“We’ve always said, if you get six or seven kids in a class, you’ll have a good bunch,” Bullington said. “Those eight stayed together.”
The victory capped the program’s third undefeated season.
“There is nothing like it,” Bullington said. “The kids played tremendous. We have a great bunch of competitors.”
The team already has its eyes set on defending the state championship in 2021.
“That’s the plan,” Cord Herring said. “We have a bunch of young guys coming back that are going to have to step up, but they can do it.”