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Friday Night Stars: The top performances in Nebraska high school football

Playoffs open with shining stars across Nebraska’s seven classifications of prep football

By Nathan Charles 

There’s a new leader in rushing yards for 11-man football after Ord’s top running back went over 200 yards for the fourth time in five games. At Millard South, a wide receiver who played under center while the quarterback was away had his fingerprints all over a win on both sides of the ball. 

At Elkhorn South, the Storm are looking like title contenders thanks in part to a back who now has over 60 touchdowns in the past two seasons. Those and more highlight another fun night of high school football.

Feature photo: Adams Central running back Hyatt Collins (28), shown after a game in September, rushed for 217 yards on 26 carries and had three touchdowns in Friday's playoff win over Platteview. (Photo Credit: Bobby Mills. Jr. Twitter)

Jett Farwell, Pawnee City Running Back

Farwell was one of two Pawnee City running backs to rush for more than 100 yards in Friday’s six-man playoff win over Stuart, but he also had four touchdown runs, caught four passes for two more scores and had 11 tackles. He carried it seven times for 145 yards, an average of over 20 yards per touch, and had 125 yards receiving. It was the second time this year he’s had 100 yards both through the air and on the ground.

Cole Ballard, Elkhorn South Running Back

In his last 22 games since becoming the feature back last season, Ballard has produced 56 touchdowns. He added five more in a 48-20 playoff win over Lincoln East that extended the Storm’s first-round playoff dominance to eight wins in a row. The senior had touchdown runs of 22, 41, 5, 2 and 84 while piling up 236 yards on 17 carries.

Tegan Lemkau, Grand Island Northwest Wide Receiver

Northwest may have entered the Class B playoffs 4-5 but the Vikings also had the top offense in Class B and were battle-tested with a difficult schedule. Lemkau is one of the reasons the offense has been so explosive. In Friday’s 24-21 playoff upset win over Elkhorn, he caught eight passes for 126 yards and a touchdown. That many receptions were a season-high while his yardage total trailed only a 152-yard performance in a win over Hastings. Lemkau has 55 catches for 799 yards and four scores on the season.

Drew Knust, Aurora Quarterback

Knust hasn’t had old reliable Carlos Collazo in the backfield behind him the last two weeks, but that’s hardly been an issue. In a 43-13 playoff win over Scotus Central Catholic, Knust rushed for 124 yards on 13 carries with two touchdowns while adding 195 yards and a score on 17 of 28 passing. Knust’s passing total was a new career-high while his 124 rushing yards are second behind the 221 he had last week.

Aidan Kuester, Neligh-Oakdale Quarterback

Kuester guided the Warriors to the Class D-1 eight-man quarterfinals for the third year in a row during a 34-22 in that saw him pass for more than 300 and run for over 100. His night through the air included 20 of 27 throwing for 301 yards and a touchdown. With his legs, he averaged 4.6 on 30 carries for 138 yards and four more scores. Kuester now has over 2,300 yards passing, over 1,500 yards rushing and 61 total touchdowns.

Lance Brester, Howells-Dodge Running Back/Linebacker

Brester went over 200 yards rushing for the first time since September 30 but also for the fifth time this fall during a 40-12 D-2 eight-man playoff win over South Loup. The senior 28 times for 224 yards, averaged 8 yards per carry and scored five times. He was also a force on the other side of the ball, making eight tackles and recovering a fumble. Brester has 1,781 rushing yards and 35 touchdowns in nine games.

Gage Mintken, Hay Springs Quarterback

Mintken put together his seventh performance with more than 100 rushing yards while leading six-man Hay Springs to just its fifth playoff win in school history. His 29 carries for 192 yards and three scores led the way during a 28-12 win. Mintken has rushed for 968 yards and 23 touchdowns on the season.

Anthony Rezac, Omaha Westside Quarterback

Rezac accounted for multiple touchdowns through the air and with his legs for the third time this season and gave the Warriors a sixth straight first-round playoff win. His performance sparked the offense to 323 total yards, included two passing touchdowns, 13 rushes for 96 yards and two more scores. He found the end zone on runs of 20 and 40 and passes of 53 and 24.

Sebastien Boyle, Scottsbluff Running Back

Boyle was a road grader once again for a Scottsbluff offense that stacked up over 440 yards of offense and 54 points in a Class B playoff win over Plattsmouth. His final line included 18 carries for 146 yards and three touchdowns. His performance put him over 1,500 yards for the second year in a row and increased his touchdown total to 24 – one short of last year’s final number.

Keenan Valverde, Pierce Running Back

Valverde has been on this list more than not, and that’s saying a lot for a guy from a team whose quarterback and tight end are also almost always worthy of the ‘Friday Night Stars’ honor. This week he gets the nod for 16 carries and 161 yards to go with three touchdowns in a dominant 49-8 playoff win over Central City. He’s at 1,415 rushing yards and 22 touchdowns on the year with seven games of more than 100.

Carson Kudlacek, Hastings St. Cecilia Quarterback

Kudlacek is another name readers will be familiar with. The Bluehawks signal caller improved his team to 10-0 and advanced St. Cecilia to the next round of the C-2 playoffs with another double-triple. Granted it’s not a term that exists in football, but for a guy who has thrown and rushed for more than 100 yards three times this season, it seems appropriate. Against Valentine, he was 6 of 14 passing for 117 yards and a touchdown to go with 13 rushes, 103 yards and two more scores on the ground.

Will Twoogood, Nebraska Christian Running back

Will was two good for a Thayer Central defense to contain on a night the senior rushed for 132 yards on 21 carries and the Eagles’ only two touchdowns in a Class D-1 eight-man victory. Twogood’s contributions earned Nebraska Christian two playoff wins in the same postseason for just the third time in school history and the first time in 37 years. He also went over 1,000 yards for the season and is averaging 6.8 yards per carry.

Dylan Heine, Wynot Quarterback

Heine threw for two scores and 317 yards and added another touchdown to go with 42 yards on the ground during a 34-28 Class D-2 eight-man playoff win. The Blue Devils turned to Heine over and over, calling 40 pass plays and 13 running plays for the junior quarterback. He connected with five different receivers and advanced Wynot to the quarterfinals for the first time since 2017.

Luke Kasten, Potter-Dix Running Back

Kasten was one of three Potter-Dix running backs to eclipse 100 yards during a six-man playoff win that ended with the Coyotes putting up 109 points. On his own, Kasten had more than a third of the team’s 597 rushing yards when he turned just nine carries into 212 yards and four touchdowns – an average of more than 23 yards per carry. Kasten also caught three passes, had eight tackles and sacked the quarterback twice.

Isaac Conner, Bennington Wide Receiver

Conner made the most of his opportunities and was one of a trio of Badgers that had a big offensive night during a 50-7 Class B playoff win. His contributions included seven catches for 130 yards and three touchdowns. Each of those figures are his second-best in a single game this season. He has 49 catches for 758 yards and 12 total touchdowns in 10 games.

Danny Kaelin, Bellevue West Quarterback

Members of the Papillion-La Vista South defense will have nightmares about Kalein for weeks to come. The Bellevue West quarterback burned Papio South with five passing touchdowns for the second week in a row and added a rushing touchdown in a first-round playoff win that was a rematch of a game from Week 9. Kaelin had never thrown for five touchdowns in a game before the past two weeks. He’s increased his total to 36 as the Thunderbirds head to a compelling rematch with Gretna.

Te’Shaun Porter, Omaha North Running Back

It’s a shame Omaha North couldn’t hold on to a 28-21 fourth-quarter lead. Grand Island was a deserving winner in Friday’s 35-28 Class A playoff first-round matchup, but the loss means the end of the career for Porter after racking up more than 3,000 yards and 40 touchdowns. He hit both of those figures during the loss with 27 carries for 176 yards and two scores. Porter’s final year went for 1,532 rushing yards and 22 touchdowns.

Brock Murtaugh, Millard South Wide Receiver

Quarterback Cam Kozeal has gotten many of the headlines, and rightfully so, since his return under center. And while he’s the top reason why the Patriots are a more than formidable 12 seed in the Class A playoffs, it’s a supporting cast that includes Murtaugh that could make Millard South a championship contender. Murtaugh’s contributions in Friday’s road win at Kearney included six receptions for 101 yards and two touchdowns, six carries for 30 yards and five tackles plus an interception return on defense.

Braeden Stull, Scottsbluff Quarterback

With nearly 450 yards of total offense, it’s no wonder Boyle isn’t the only Bearcat to appear on this list. Stull’s work under center included four total touchdowns, three through the air. He had 30 yards rushing and one trip to the end zone passed for 153 and those three scores. Scottsbluff’s identity as a power run team, and its execution of that system, always made the Bearcats successful. Stull balances that out and could make Scottsbluff championship-worthy.

Cal Newell, Lincoln Southwest Running Back

Newell put the exclamation point on an emotional win over Millard West with a fourth-quarter workload that included two touchdowns. Overall, he had 37 carries for 217 yards and carried it for eight of nine plays then six of seven on the final two scoring drives. He took six more handoffs late that melted away the rest of the clock. In the final quarter, he had 13 carries for 69 yards and the two touchdowns.

Josh Basilevac, Elkhorn North Quarterback

Basilevac made all kinds of history for the program in Friday’s 35-14 Class B playoff win over Lincoln Pius X. On 20 carries he amassed 187 yards and two touchdowns. Through the air, he was an efficient 10 of 12 passing for 104 yards and three touchdowns. Nearly everything he did was a first in Elkhorn North’s first playoff game in program history. But for a guy who’s been part of the past two 1-8 seasons, the win will likely mean more than any individual achievement.

Thomas Spears, Ashland-Greenwood Wide Receiver

Spears went over 100 yards receiving for the second time this year and scored his sixth touchdown during a 35-3 Class C-1 playoff win over Auburn. The sophomore caught seven passes for 108, an average of over 15 yards per catch, and now has 46 receptions on the season and 469 yards. Defensively he added five tackles and two pass breakups.

Luke Penrod, Lincoln Christian Running Back

Penrod’s line for the 43-42 Class C-1 playoff win over Roncalli might remind some of Jerome Bettis. The Bus had several games late in his career where he was called on inside the 10 to finish off a drive. Penrod did that and more for the Warriors when he scored four touchdowns in 10 carries for 62 yards during the win. He also caught two passes for 65 yards, made six tackles, two TFLs and sacked the quarterback.

Hyatt Collins, Adams Central Running Back

Collins went over 200 yards for the first time this season and was the main weapon for the Patriots in a 29-14 C-1 win over Platteview. The senior picked up 217 yards on 26 carries and found the end zone three times. His attempts and yardage total were both career-highs and put him within 79 yards of rushing for 1,000. Collins is averaging 6.8 yards per carry and has 19 touchdowns on the season.

Trent McCain, Ord Running Back

McCain took over the Nebraska lead for 11-man football when he came eight yards short of setting a new career-high in Friday’s 40-0 C-2 shutout win over Chase County. The junior rushed for 267 yards on 32 carries and scored three times. It was the fourth time he’s gone over 200 yards this season and the fourth time in the last five games. The new state leader, McCain has 1,732 for the season and is averaging 6.6 yards every time he touches the ball.