AJ Jenkins caps record-setting career, leads Wilcox-Hildreth to first state title

KEARNEY, Neb. — The last time AJ Jenkins touched the football in high school was a touchdown, of course.

But his play that gave Wilcox- Hildreth the lead for good Friday in the Six-Man final was a pass that became a tip-drill touchdown for Clayton Nichols.

The Falcons went on to defeat Hay Springs 52-40 in the first NSAA-sanctioned state championship for six-man football since 1998.

With his team trailing 40-38, Jenkins threw to Sid Gruwell at the Hay Springs 20. The pass went off Gruwell’s hands as he was getting hit — he was shaken up on the play — and caromed about 5 yards in the air downfield to Nichols for an easy score on the first play of the final quarter at UNK’s Cope Stadium.

“That was crazy,” Jenkins said. “Sometimes it’s better to have luck.”

Before the semifinals, Jenkins had attempted 11 passes all season. Then Bryce Tobiassen went down with an injury midway through the 63-50 win over Harvard. Jenkins went 7 for 7, four going for touchdowns.

He had two more TD passes against the Hawks, including a 4-yarder to Riley Ritner to open the Falcons’ scoring.

Jenkins scored five times — four runs and a 43-yard interception return — to finish with Six-Man records of 60 touchdowns this season (passing touchdowns do not count) and 127 in his career. The career mark of 118 had been set by Dennis Korinek of Ulysses in 1950.

“He’s everything we thought,” Hay Springs coach Josh Borm said.

No. 2 Wilcox-Hildreth (12-0) blanked No. 3 Hay Springs (11-1) in the final quarter after the Hawks led at halftime 34-30 and by two after three quarters.

The Falcons’ three defensive stops were a strip fumble by Jenkins that Nichols recovered at the Hawks’ 28, an interception by Lane Lieb that he returned 34 yards to the 6 and a turnover on downs near midfield.

“We were stressing all week that people were trying to make this game an offense versus defense game and we were the team without the defense,” Falcons coach Gabe Eberhardt said. “So we kind of took that to heart. (Hay Springs) did the exact opposite. It showed why their offense is pretty doggone good, as well.”

Jenkins and Hay Springs’ Trent Reed met repeatedly as ball carrier and tackler. Reed ended with 225 yards to push his Six-Man record to 6,774, and he scored three touchdowns in the final. Jenkins netted 170 rushing yards for 6,578 in his career, No. 2 to Reed.

“They both showed why they’re the top players in the state,” Eberhardt said. “But AJ and Trent Reed didn’t get here by themselves. The supporting casts for both teams played phenomenal tonight and all season long.”

Hay Springs stayed with the Falcons as junior Bryce Running Hawk caught three touchdown passes. The Hawks had a pair of 14-point bursts by recovering onside kicks — one in the first 63 seconds of the game and the other in the last 51 seconds of the first half.

“It stings, and it’s going to sting for a while to come up second and be so close in a back-and-forth game,” Borm said. “But it’s the best season in school history and something these kids can hang their hat on.”

After a state title in his only playoff season, Jenkins said he’s happy for the communities.

“Neither one of us had won a title,” he said. “I think it’s going to bring the towns really closer together, and I hope we can carry this success onto basketball and track.”

Wilcox-Hildreth (11-0)……….16 14 8 14—52

Hay Springs (11-0)…………….12 22 6 0—40

HS: Bryce Running Hawk 44 pass from Trent Reed (kick failed)

HS: Reed 40 run (pass failed)

WH: Riley Ritner 4 pass from AJ Jenkins (Sid Gruwell kick)

WH: Jenkins 2 run (Gruwell kick)

WH: Jenkins 43 interception return (Gruwell kick)

HS: Running Hawk 7 pass from Baiden Planansky (Reed kick)

WH: Jenkins 22 run (kick failed)

HS: Reed 1 run (kick failed)

HS: Running Hawk 4 pass from Planansky (Reed kick)

WH: Jenkins 6 run (Gruwell kick)

HS: Reed 1 run (kick failed)

WH: Clayton Nichols 29 pass from Jenkins (kick failed)

WH: Jenkins 6 run (Gruwell kick)

INDIVIDUAL STATISTICS

Rushing: WH, Jenkins 26-170, Gruwell 2-1, Bryce Tobiassen 1-(minus 5), team 2-37. HS, Reed 28-225, Jarret Pieper 13-49, Running Hawk 13-49, Planansky 2-(minus 13).

Passing: WH, Jenkins 6-11-2 87, Gruwell 3-4-0 25. HS, Planansky 2-9-1 11, Reed 2-7-1 74.

Receiving: WH, Jeknins 2-18, Ritner 2-10, Gruwell 2-9, Ryan Smith 1-36, Nichols 1-29, Lane Lieb 1-10. WH, Running Hawk 4-85.

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