CODY, Neb. – In the long-awaited Six Man football showdown between offensive powers McCool Junction and Cody-Kilgore, what might be missed when sizing up the Class D-6 semifinal is that both teams are strong on the defensive side of the ball.
The Cody-Kilgore Cowboys have only allowed 95 points this season for a 9.5 per-game average, while the McCool Junction Mustangs, who were not even in a competitive game from early September to the first round of the playoffs against the Crawford Rams, are giving up 16.5 points a contest.
The eye gravitates toward the explosive offense numbers, but a few defensive stops will be a key in this state championship berth matchup.
Both teams average better than 55 points per game with McCool Junction at 58 and Cody-Kilgore at 60. Both teams have playmakers on each side of the ball, so fundamentals and staying home on defense will be keys for each.
“The biggest challenge is to make sure we tackle their legs. Their backs are very physical and run very tough,” McCool Junction head coach Jarrod Weiss said. “Staying home on the backside of plays will be key because their skill players do a great job of planting their feet and cutting back across the grain.
“I think one advantage we have is we’ve played a couple of teams that have challenged us throughout a full game. We’ve had to battle for 40 minutes, whereas they haven’t been challenged as much, so if we can make it a four-quarter game that may benefit us.”
Both teams have used the turnover to their advantage, as the Mustangs have caused 36 turnovers with 19 interceptions while the Cowboys have created 23 turnovers with 14 fumble recoveries.
McCool Junction’s Dana Hobbs and Chase Wilkinson lead the defense with 66 and 61 tackles, respectively.
McCool Junction comes in with a running game that produces 362 average yards per outing, led by Hobbs with 1,065 on 72 rushes for a 118.3-yards-per-game average. Sophomore Owen McDonald, who chewed up the Eustis-Farnam defense to the tune of 207 rushing yards, is averaging 91.9 with 67 carries for 827 total yards this season.
The Mustangs’ passing game has not been a big part of their offensive approach all season, with a 41.3-yards-per-game average.
The Cowboys will rely on 5-foot-10, 185-pound senior running back Waylon Schneider, who comes into the game with 1,291 yards on 126 carries for a per-game average of 129.1.
Senior quarterback Daniel Busenitz has completed 36 of 53 passes with two interceptions and 20 touchdowns. His main two targets are Tucker Ravenscroft with nine receptions for 190 yards and four touchdowns, while sophomore Cactus Miller is averaging 25.6 yards per reception with five touchdowns.
“Cody wants to line up in power sets and try to hammer the ball at you throughout the game. They do a great job of doing this,” Weiss said. “With a team like Cody, you have to limit their best sets and try to force them into being uncomfortable, which is very hard to do. We will have to disguise our blitzes and show different looks throughout the game so they can’t become comfortable.”
Weiss also added that, along with a power running game, the Cowboys possess good speed.
“I’m very impressed with Cody’s size and speed. They run their power game probably better than anyone I’ve seen so far this year,” Weiss said. “They usually don’t abandon it much, even if they get behind the chains. They like to zone block and create double teams up front. We will need to get them into spread sets and make them throw the ball a little bit.
“I like how our guys have responded throughout the season and adjusting to many different formations,” he added. “Offensively we will need to maintain ball control, make them play in space and take care of the football. Also, special teams could play a major factor in who wins this game.”
The team leaves Thursday at noon and will stop in Ord to practice. They will stop in Burwell to eat and spend the night in Valentine, which is about 35 minutes from Cody.
“We will be arriving in Cody around 10:30 a.m. mountain time so the boys can walk the field and then go get dressed and ready to go for the 1 p.m. mountain time kickoff,” Weiss said. “We look forward to the challenge that lies ahead. When you get to this point, the four best teams are alive and still playing. There are no easy games left. We are excited to make the trip out to Cody. They are not familiar with us, nor are we with them, so it could be a chess match throughout the game.
“The team that executes the best will advance to Kearney in a week. We are happy we’re in this situation and look forward to a great football game against a highly-ranked and well-coached football team.”
The winner of the McCool Junction (10-0) and Cody-Kilgore (10-0) game will face the winner of the Harvard (10-0) and Creek Valley (10-0) game on Friday, Nov. 2 at 7 p.m. at Cope Stadium on the University of Nebraska-Kearney campus for the Six Man state championship.