It was a chant not unexpected. But they could finally say it.
Omaha Burke has overcome a lot in the past year or so: being only 1:44 away from last year’s state championship, head coach Paul Limongi’s tonsil cancer diagnosis, Nebraska commit Nick Henrich’s knee injuries, etc. 2018 was a year of comebacks for the Bulldogs, and they won the Class A title in the most appropriate comeback fashion.
“We’ve been working so hard ever since last year,” junior wide receiver Xavier Watts said.
The Bulldogs' 24-20 victory over seventh-seed Grand Island wasn’t a cakewalk. The Islanders’ two first half touchdowns, a Caleb Francl 33-yard reception and a John Reilly 18-yard rush, put them up 14-3 going into the third quarter.
That’s when the first-seed Bulldogs started barking. Watts caught two third quarter touchdown receptions for 62 and 38 yards, respectively. Not only this, but their defense also managed to shut down what seemed (in the first half) to be an unstoppable Cole Evans-powered Grand Island offense.
Despite Burke’s third quarter push, the final 12 minutes were still tight. Reilley cashed in six from 1 yard out in the mid-fourth, and Burke running back James Burks sprinting into the endzone from seven yards out with three minutes remaining. The game went downhill from there for Grand Island: Evans tipped an interception to Burke’s Terrill Turner with 1:49 left, and the Islander defense failed to make a crucial last stop as they trailed 24-20.
Coach Limongi credits his Bulldogs’ second half momentum for helping them win the school’s first-ever state football title.
“When we get the moment, and we start feeling it, we’re tough to beat,” Limongi said. “I am so proud of these guys.”
Nebraska commit inside linebacker Nick Henrich, who had not played in weeks, reinjured his knee in the first quarter of play. He seemed to be in hopeful spirits after the win, despite not finishing the game.
“We’ll just pray for the best,” Henrich said.
13-0 Omaha Burke will look to defend their spotless state championship in 2019. Runner-up Grand Island caps off their season with a 10-3 record that includes quality wins over Lincoln High, Omaha North, Millard South, and Bellevue West.