CODY, Neb. — Through the first 20 minutes of semifinal action in Cody, Nebraska, on Friday afternoon, nothing had been decided between the McCool Junction Mustangs and the Cody-Kilgore Cowboys, two undefeated Six Man football teams.
The Mustangs held a slight 16-14 lead, and both teams had missed scoring opportunities in the first half. But with a little over three minutes having elapsed in the third quarter, senior Dana Hobbs scored the first of his three second-half touchdowns and McCool punched its ticket to the state championship for the first time in school history with a 40-28 win.
Hobbs also scored on a 55-yard run on a third-and-20 and later added a short 1-yarder with 6:38 to play in the game.
McCool Junction head coach Jarrod Weiss said that at the half, the talk was only about finishing.
“I really didn’t know what to think what we would be able to do. At halftime we talked about finishing when we were up by two points,” he said. “We thought if we could come out and get a touchdown or two to open that third quarter we could maybe loosen up things a little bit, and both Dana and Owen (McDonald) ran hard and we started to really pick up some big yards on the ground.
“We know we can put the ball in Dana and Owen’s hands and they can make plays for us all the time.”
Both teams came in averaging large numbers in the run game, but the Mustangs’ defense was up to the test as it held the Cody-Kilgore attack to about 160 yards under its season average.
The Cowboys’ leading rusher, Waylon Schneider, led the ground game with 90 yards on 10 carries, but 45 of those yards came with 3:14 to play in the game as Cody-Kilgore cut the Mustang lead to 40-28.
A score by the hosts at the 5:01 mark of the fourth quarter, a 19-yard pass from quarterback Daniel Busenitz to Parker Andrews, made it 40-20 at the time.
Cody-Kilgore rushed for 137 yards and passed for 101 for 238 yards of total offense.
McCool Junction, which came in averaging right at 260 rushing yards, had 249 yards on the ground with Hobbs leading the way with 199 on 28 attempts.
The Mustangs, who barely threw 40 passes all season, hit 7 of 8 in the first half for 51 yards.
“We wanted to be a little more multi-dimensional because we knew they had scouted us quite a bit,” Weiss said. “We knew they were going to try and stop our running game with Dana and Owen, so we felt we had to air it out a little bit to keep them honest.”
Cody-Kilgore took the lead with 6:14 to play in the first quarter when sophomore Gage Davis scored on a 30-yard run. The Mustangs then drove the ball down to the Cowboy 2, but were stopped on fourth-and-goal.
On the very next play, McDonald led the defense by tackling Davis in the end zone for a safety.
McCool Junction took the lead for good with a little under two minutes into the second half on a 7-yard run by McDonald.
The defense then stepped up and made a huge play as McDonald intercepted Busenitz’s pass in the end zone and went the distance with the pick-six to make it 16-8.
After throwing eight passes in the first half, the only pass the Mustangs attempted in the second was a short fourth-down completion to Bradley Lewis that sealed the win.
“This is so surreal because in all the years I’ve been coaching, I’ve never been to a state final,” Weiss said. “We are excited to go to Kearney and really it does not make any difference who we play. The kids earned this shot and next week we hope to go down to Kearney and finish the job.”
The Six Man state title game is next Friday, Nov. 22 at 7 p.m. at Ron & Carol Cope Stadium at Foster Field in Kearney. McCool will play undefeated Harvard, which beat Creek Valley in the other semifinal Friday.