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“Tough pill to swallow.” Centennial falls short in Lincoln

“Tough pill to swallow.” Centennial falls short in Lincoln

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LEDE

News-Times/Steve Marik

Centennial’s 6-foot, 225-pound junior linebacker Jayden Hartshorn records a tackle on Lincoln Lutheran’s Cole Seeba in the first half of Friday night’s game in Lincoln.

LINCOLN — The Centennial Broncos were 1 minute and 34 seconds away from a road win Friday night, and they had the Lincoln Lutheran Warriors on their own 2-yard line.

But Lutheran quarterback Josh Duitsman had other plans.

Duitsman took his snap from a shotgun set, rolled to his right and found receiver Zach Ringler, who beat his man and raced 86 yards to the Centennial 13 before being dragged down. Three plays later, with under a minute left, Duitsman threw an 8-yard touchdown to the 6-foot-3 Jonny Puelz to give his team a 21-17 lead.

With only 19 seconds left in the game, Centennial started its drive on its own 35 thanks to a kickoff out of bounds from the Warriors.

Quarterback Cooper Gierhan — a senior who rushed for 98 yards, two touchdowns and kicked a 26-yard field goal — got his team down to the Lutheran 15-yard line thanks to a pass interference penalty on the Warriors and a pair of 23- and 13-yard completions to his 6-3 wideout Jake Bargen, the latter of which left just under 5 seconds.

Enough time for one more pass.

Gierhan’s final attempt to Bargen fell incomplete, sealing the loss for the Broncos.

“I didn’t have a speech, and I told them I don’t care if we’re the best team in the state, the worst team in the state, if it’s week one or week eight, this is a tough pill to swallow,” Centennial head coach Evan Klanecky said of what he told the team after the game. “I told the underclassmen to remember this feeling, because I think that’s important. We’ll see how bad we want it against Yutan, a good and rated team. I think we can potentially sneak in (to the playoffs) at 4-5 with our strength of schedule.”

A Gierhan 11-yard touchdown run gave Centennial a 7-0 lead in the first quarter. Lutheran tied the game with a 24-yard run from Ben Blankenbiller on a jet-sweep action in the backfield.

Gierhan’s field goal gave the Broncos a 10-7 edge at halftime. Gierhan again found the end zone on a run on the Broncos’ opening drive of the second half, this one a 6-yarder, to put Centennial on top 17-7.

Gierhan’s play at quarterback, running Centennial’s spread, run-pass option offense, impressed his coach.

“He’s become a really good decision maker,” Klanecky said. “You see it big time in the speed option stuff we run. He just plants and goes or pitches. He’s becoming a better decision maker in the passing game, too, not necessarily with his reads, but just deciding that if he can’t get the throw, he’s going to get it with his feet.

“He plays really hard. He’s a great downhill runner, and it’s never a matter of effort with him.”

Lutheran, however, answered Gierhan’s third-quarter touchdown with one of its own, a 12-yard scoring pass from Duitsman to Puelz that cut the host’s deficit to 17-14.

Centennial (3-5) 7 3 7 0 — 17

At Lincoln Lutheran (3-5) 0 7 7 7 — 21

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