The visiting team appears to be the team to beat in the early going of the Kansas vs. Nebraska Eight-Man All-Star Classic football game.
Nebraska got a little pay back for last year’s 31-14 thumping at Doane College in Crete, Neb., by edging Kansas 20-12 at Fort Hays State University’s Lewis Field Stadium Saturday.
For Nebraska, an outcome similar to the 2008 classic was not an option.
“We talked about last year’s game a time or two,” Nebraska coach Kevin Mahlberg said. “After that it was just a matter of having some pride as a team. We wanted to have a better showing than last year.
“If playing in a game like this isn’t motivation enough, then maybe you shouldn’t be playing in the game.”
Both defenses made an impact during the game, jarring the ball loose on several occasions. Nebraska dropped the ball six times, turning the ball over three times, while Kansas lost the ball three times on nine fumbles for the game.
“Some of those were fumbled snaps,” Mahlberg said. “It happens during the season. Mistakes happen. We just told the kids to go out and play loose. We told them to forget about it and to do what they know how to do.”
The Kansas offense out gained Nebraska 276-205 for the game, but Nebraska won the kicking game. Cody Eller hit the open field on two long punt returns giving Nebraska the short field on scoring drives.
Late in the first half the O’Neill St. Marys product returned a Kansas punt 41 yards to the Sunflower State team’s 24-yard line. A few plays later, Nebraska quarterback Brett Kaczor converted on third-and-18 when he found Elgin’s Andrew Bauer down the sideline with a 31-yard strike.
Kaczor then found his way into the end zone from a yard out, giving his team a 14-0 advantage with 3:25 left in the opening half.
Early in the fourth quarter, Eller struck again returning a punt 35 yards to the Kansas 10-yard line. On his way to the end zone, Bauer fumbled the ball, but he was able to scoop it back up on the bounce and give Nebraska a 20-6 lead following the 8-yard scoring run.
At that point Nebraska changed its game plan and began running some clock.
“We knew Kansas wanted to throw the ball a lot, so we went into the game wanting to get some balance with the run and pass, hoping to keep the ball away from them," Mahlberg said. "But our defense stepped up and we had the two crucial punt returns allowing us to run a lot of option read plays.”
Nebraska got on the board first when Cedar Bluff’s Brendon Jorgenson capped off a 55-yard Cornhusker State drive with a 1-yard plunge. Giltner’s Kyle Spotts gave Nebraska an 8-0 advantage by hauling in Kaczor’s 2-point conversion pass with 6:46 left in the second quarter.
Kansas cut the deficit to 14-6 just before halftime when Tescott’s Kory Lonberger reeled in a 31-yard strike from Rozel Pawnee Heights quarterback Mason Salmans.
Late in the game a halfback pass from Goessel’s Craig Banman to Baileyville B&B’s Matt Rottinghaus, covering 51 yards, set up a rare opportunity for one of Kansas’ offensive linemen.
Clifton-Clyde’s Zach Cyphers scored one for the big guys with 2:06 left in the game, when he fell on Haviland product Lane Kendall’s fumble into the end zone narrowing the gap to 20-12 and giving Kansas one last shot at a rally.
Kansas kicker John Bruna recovered the ensuing onside kick at the Nebraska 48-yard line. Then on fourth down Salmans converted a first down on 4th-and-3. But the Kansas offensive MVP fumbled the ball inside the Nebraska 28-yard line on the play ending all hopes of a rally.
Jordan Ottley was all over the field in earning the Kansas defensive MVP honors. The Victoria defensive back led all defenders with 11 tackles, and he also broke up two passes, forced a fumble and recovered a fumble.
Salmans completed 12 of 28 passes for 150 yards and one touchdown in bringing home Kansas offensive most valuable player honors.
Kaczor, who played his prep ball at Ewing, rushed for 55 yards and passed for 124 more in earning Nebraska offensive honors. Anselmo-Merna’s Tyler Bartak was named Nebraska’s defensive MVP after getting credit for 3 1/2 tackles for losses in the game.