NELIGH — Aiden Kuester had already set the state and national records for total offensive yardage in 8-man football. But the senior quarterback may have had the best game of his record-setting career when it mattered most for Neligh-Oakdale.
Kuester completed 21 of 27 passes for 356 yards and five touchdowns, rushed 32 times for 196 yards and three touchdowns, picked off two passes on defense, and recovered an onside kick.
All of that helped the Warriors knock off previously-undefeated and top-seeded St. Pat’s 50-28 in the Class D1 semifinals on Friday night at Warrior Field.
“It’s really special,” Kuester said. “We’ve been talking about this since last season ended.”
Kuester’s favorite target was junior Bryson Gadeken, who caught 11 passes for 179 yards and three touchdowns. Chase Furstenau had 110 yards and two touchdowns on just four receptions.
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“It just means so much, obviously for these kids,” Neligh-Oakdale coach Ron Beacom said. “They’ve really bought into what we’re asking of them. They’ve worked so freaking hard. I don’t know if anybody really believed that we could do this.”
The Warriors came up with a huge game on the defensive side, too. Neligh-Oakdale held St. Pat’s to 228 yards of total offense, 182 of that on the ground.
James Heirigs led with 132 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries, although 65 of those yards came on one rush. The Irish were just 6 of 16 passing for 46 yards.
“They have a lot of good football players,” St. Pat’s coach Kevin Dodson said. “I thought they played really well. This is definitely by far the best team that we faced this year.”
Neligh-Oakdale led throughout, scoring the first 18 points en route to touchdowns on four-straight possessions to lead 26-6 with 4:29 left in the second quarter. St. Pat’s never got closer than 12 the entire game, including a short touchdown pass with four seconds left in the first half.
The Warriors’ game plan called for a steady diet of screen and swing passes to Gadeken, typically a running back, and multiple receivers, along with mixing in some seam routes up the middle, plus Kuester’s own rushing acumen.
“We knew we weren’t going to be able to just keep pounding,” Beacom said. “We were going to have to do some different things to keep those linebackers honest. Even though they’re big up front, their linebackers are super fast, so we had to make them play in all different directions.”
The teams combined for three touchdowns in 1:34 of the third quarter, but Kuester’s scramble and then powering past two defenders near the goal line put the Warriors ahead 44-20 with 1:37 left in the quarter.
“We just told our kids to do what we have to do. I knew they were going to bring it at us,” Beacom said. “I told them that it doesn’t matter if nobody believes in us. We’ve just got to have 25 kids on our sideline who believe.”
Heirigs’ 65-yard run set up an answer for the Irish with 6:08 to play, but Kuester recovered the onside kick, and his TD run with 2:07 remaining capped the scoring.