The Sandhills/Thedford football team fell just short in its bid for a state championship on Monday as Kenesaw edged the Knights 46-40 to claim the Class D2 state title. The game went back and forth and featured several momentum swings. The game started off with a bang as each team scored on their opening possession. On the third play of the game, Kenesaw quarterback Tyson Denkert broke loose for a 47 yard touchdown run to put Kenesaw in front 8-0. Sandhills/Thedford would answer quickly as Reece Zutavern broke free for a 54 yard touchdown run to tie the game at 8-8. Kenesaw would then score the next 22 points to go up 30-8 with 7:21 left in the first half. That is when Sandhills/Thedford head coach Josh Deines decided to make a change on offense. Freshman Kyle Cox entered the game at quarterback moving Reece Zutavern to fullback and Dane Pokorny to tailback. It was a move that would spark the Sandhills/Thedford offense. With 4:18 left in the 2nd quarter, Cox hooked up with Drew McIntosh on a 14 yard touchdown pass to bring the Knights to within 30-16. After a defensive stop, Sandhills/Thedford drove down the field and scored on a 7 yard touchdown run by Reece Zutavern with 5 seconds left in the first half to bring Sandhills/Thedford to within 30-24 at the half.
Sandhills/Thedford carried that momentum into the third quarter. On the opening play of the 2nd half, Zutavern returned to the quarterback position and ripped off a 61 yard touchdown run to put the Knights up for the first time in the game at 32-30. Later in the third quarter, Zutavern struck again on an 18 yard touchdown run to extend Sandhills/Thedford’s lead to 40-30 with 9:59 left in the third quarter. However, that would be the last points that the Knights would score. Tyson Denkert led Kenesaw back with a 2 yard touchdown run late in the third quarter to bring the Blue Devils to within 40-38 and then put Kenesaw back in front with a 3 yard touchdown run with 5:06 left in the game to make the score 46-40. Freshman Kyle Cox re-entered the game at quarterback for Sandhills/Thedford and helped engineer a drive that saw the Knights get inside the Kenesaw ten yard line with under 2 minutes to play. The Kenesaw defense forced Sandhills/Thedford into a 4th down and goal from the five when Kyle Cox appeared to run in for the game tying touchdown but a holding penalty took away the touchdown and put Sandhills/Thedford into a 4th and goal situation from the Kenesaw 17 yard line. Kenesaw held on fourth down and then ran out the clock to win the school’s first football state championship by a final score of 46-40.
Kenesaw was led by quarterback Tyson Denkert who had an amazing game finishing with 55 carries for 303 yards and scored all six of Kenesaw’s touchdowns in the game.
Sandhills/Thedford finished with 349 rushing yards for the game led by Reece Zutavern who had a team high 177 rushing yards on just 9 carries and Dane Pokorny also eclipsed the century mark with 111 yards.
It was a tremendous effort by Sandhills/Thedford that fell just short as the Knights finish as the Class D2 state runner-up for the second year in a row.
In other state final action from Monday, Howells-Dodge defeated Cross County 42-12 to claim the Class D1 title and Bennington defeated Aurora 42-14 to win the Class B championship.
Three more titles will be decided Tuesday when Norfolk Catholic plays Archbishop Bergan for the Class C2 crown, Pierce takes on Columbus Lakeview for the Class C1 title, and Omaha Westside faces Gretna for the Class A championship.
*Photos by Dean Ringlein