CLARKS, Neb. — Led by the two-headed hammer of senior runners Keaton Van Housen and Dylan Soule, the Osceola/High Plains Stormdogs pounded out their ninth-straight victory on Monday night in Clarks with a 34-30 semifinal win over the rival Cross County Cougars behind a game-winning drive with a little over a minute left.
The Stormdogs are headed to next week’s Class D-1 state championship against last year’s runner-up, the Burwell Longhorns, a powerhouse of a program riding a 15-year playoff streak that has been in four of the last five D-1 state title games, with a state championship in 2016.
It’s no secret that both Osceola/High Plains and Cross County made their livings running the football this season. Both have two 1,000-yard rushers. The Stormdogs, led by Van Housen and Soule, came into the game averaging 380 rushing yards per game while the Cougars, with junior Isaac Noyd (1,458 rushing yards, 20 touchdowns) and sophomore Carter Seim (1,212 yards, 18 touchdowns) carrying much of the load, averaged 291 on the ground.
But on Monday night, Osceola/High Plains ran it a bit better — and when it counted the most.
After a clutch 23-yard touchdown pass from Cael Lundstrom to Christian Rystrom put the Cougars up 30-27 with 5:43 left in the game, the Stormdogs leaned on their offensive line of Corby Cannon, Kyle Sterup, Carter Girard and Tanner Kropatsch, as well as Van Housen’s legs on their final drive, which wound up going 10 plays — all of which were runs — for 59 yards. Van Housen had eight of those carries, including an 8-yarder for a first down on a key third-and-5. Two plays later, he stretched the ball over the goal line for a 3-yard score to put his team up 34-30.
The Osceola/High Plains defense, led by the tackle machine Soule, held strong on the ensuing Cross County drive and forced three incompletions to seal the win and cue the fireworks over Clarks.
“It went back and forth there, but the kids continued to fight,” Osceola/High Plains co-head coach Greg Wood said. “The offensive line did an awesome job all night long opening up some holes, and then the defense came up big in the end.”
Cross County was on the verge of heading into halftime trailing 21-6. But the Cougars drove 57 yards in 44 seconds thanks to chunk runs from Noyd and Seim and a 30-yard catch by Cory Hollinger from Lundstrom that was ruled down at the Osceola/High Plains' 1. Lundstrom was able to hurry the offense to the line and spike the ball with just .06 seconds left on the clock. The Cougars’ Landen Berck punched the ball in one play later for the score.
Cross County seemed to come out of halftime with some pop. The Cougars faced a fourth-and-5 and converted on a Lundstrom scramble down the Osceola/High Plains sideline. But a holding penalty put the Cougars behind the chains, and the drive stalled at the Stormdog 25 after a couple incompletions on third-and-15.
Osceola/High Plains didn’t waste any time capitalizing on the turnover on downs, as Van Housen broke loose for a 55-yard run on the first play to give the hosts a 27-14 lead with eight minutes left in the third.
Van Housen, who came into the game with 1,964 rushing yards and 30 touchdowns, rushed for three scores while Soule punched in two. Cross County unofficially rushed for 168 yards and passed for 66. Seim, Berck and Lundstrom all rushed for a touchdown for the Cougars.
Osceola/High Plains and Burwell will play Monday at 10:15 a.m. at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln. This is the final season of the football coop between the two schools.
“This is huge. It is huge. I can’t even put it into words,” Wood said of what it means to help take this team to Lincoln. “It’s so awesome for these kids. For all the hard work they put in, the time they put in, they deserve this.”
Cross County (7-5) 6 8 8 8 — 30
At Osceola/High Plains (10-2) 8 13 6 7 — 34
O/HP: Dylan Soule 1 run (Isaiah Zelasney run good)
CC: Carter Seim 18 run (run fail)
O/HP: Soule 15 run (run fail)
O/HP: Keaton Van Housen 6 run (run fail)
CC: Landen Berck 1 run (two-point pass good)
O/HP: Van Housen 55 run (run fail)
CC: Cael Lundstrom 1 run (Seim run good)
CC: Christian Rystrom 23 pass from Lundstrom (Rystrom run good)
O/HP: Van Housen 3 run (Javier Marino kick)