For a time in the first half of Monday’s Class D-1 state championship football game, it looked like Jaden Rhynalds might have a new role for the East Butler football team.
The sophomore moved from running back to quarterback after senior standout Dalton Bohac had to be helped off the field late in the first quarter with a knee injury. After Rhynalds played a pair of series behind center, Bohac returned.
And the backup couldn’t have been happier.
On the second play after Bohac came back, Rhynalds hauled in a 57-yard screen pass to break a 6-6 tie, a play that helped propel the 10th-ranked Tigers to a 36-14 win over No. 5 and previously unbeaten South Loup at Memorial Stadium.
With the win, East Butler (11-2) won its first state title since 1989.
“I’d much rather catch them (passes) than throw them,” said Rhynalds, who later hauled in a 34-yard TD pass from Bohac on the same type of screen play with 10:01 left in the game to make it 36-6. Rhynalds was 1 of 2 passing for two yards with an interception during his time at quarterback.
Rhynalds had an interception himself in the end zone in the second quarter three plays after the Bobcats’ Blake Schwarz smothered an East Butler fumble at the Tiger 10.
“I hadn’t played much quarterback after (starting running back) Carter Stara got hurt, so I was pretty happy when Dalton came back,” Rhynalds added. “On both of those (scoring) plays, all I had to do was take off because I got some great blocks on the edge.”
The 5-foot-10, 160-pound Bohac finished with 79 yards on 25 carries and completed 10 of 14 passes for 192 yards and five TDs.
When the injury first occurred, however, he wasn’t sure any of that would be possible.
“I had a lot of pain, so I thought it might be my last play of my high school career,” Bohac said. “Then I started feeling better and everything turned out OK.”
Two plays after the tiebreaking touchdown, all-state senior linebacker Trevor Havlovic forced a South Loup fumble and teammate Camden Robley recovered it at midfield. Ten plays later, Robley caught a 4-yard scoring pass from Bohac after the ball was tipped by the Bobcats’ Cade Connell, making it 22-6 with 2:47 left in the first half.
East Butler coach Shawn Biltoft admitted his heart was in his throat when Bohac had to be helped off the field.
“I didn’t want that to be the way his career ended,” Biltoft said of Bohac, who entered Monday’s game with 1,984 yards passing and 1,031 rushing with a combined 46 touchdowns.
“Dalton plays with so much poise and he’s tough,” the coach added. “It takes a lot to knock him out of a game, and it was a huge boost for our guys when he came back.”
East Butler forced six South Loup turnovers – three fumbles and three interceptions. Robley, a 6-1, 175-pound senior, had a pair of interceptions, including one in the end zone in the third quarter. East Butler converted three of those turnovers into touchdowns.
Quarterback Jack Rush came in Monday with 3,241 yards of total offense for the Bobcats (12-1), but he was held to 52 yards rushing and 193 yards passing on 15 of 29 completions. The 6-foot-4 senior threw a 63-yard touchdown pass to Connell to tie the game late in the first quarter and hit Jace Connell for a 15-yard scoring play with three seconds left in the game.
“All week, we heard Jack Rush, Jack Rush,” said Havlovic, a 6-2, 205-pound senior who had 11 tackles to go with six pass receptions for 82 yards and a pair of touchdowns. “We wanted to shut them down.”
East Butler’s size advantage proved to be much for South Loup to overcome. Brandon Rezac, a 215-pound senior defensive end, had a game-high 13 tackles. Two tackles were for losses. He chased down the Bobcats’ Jace Connell who was escaping on an 18-yard kickoff return. He also recovered a fumble.
Rezac said the defense was working so well together that South Loup was at a real disadvantage.
“Nolan (Makovicka) and Jakub (Janak) and I, we’re all equals out there,” Rezac said. “Everybody does their part. So long as someone gets a tackle on this team for a loss that is a win for all of us. I think we just shut down their running offense and they had to pass. Rush didn’t even score a touchdown on us.”
Havlovic said the Bobcats also couldn’t unleash the pass.
“Today we probably played our best pass defense all year,” Havlovic said.
The Bobcats had taken notice of the Tigers’ physical play all year.
“They were physically stronger, we knew that coming in,” South Loup coach Andy Schwarz said. “Their defensive backs did a great job. The ball hung up a little in here and they were able to react and make the play.
“Our fumbles, that was us, not them, and we haven’t fumbled at all this season,” the coach added. “We just weren’t there at times today.”
Class D1 Championship
November 20 at Memorial Stadium, Lincoln
South Loup 6 0 0 6-14
East Butler 6 16 8 6 -36
Team Stats SL; EB
First downs 16; 16
Time of Pos. 21:48; 25:12
Total plays 56; 59
Yds per play 5.1 ; 5.5
Rushing 27-90; 43-129
Passing 15-29-193; 11-16 194
Fumbles/lost 5/3; 3/2
Interceptions 1; 3
Passing EB: Bohac 10-14 192, 5 TD; SL: Rush 15-29 193 2 TD.
Rushing: EB: Bohac 25-79; Rhynalds 7-32; Wi. Wright 6-20. SL: Rush 18-52; Schwarz 8-27.
Receiving EB: Rhynalds 2-91 2TD; Havlovic 6-82 2TD; Robley 3-21 TD. SL C. Connell 6-116 TD; J. Connell 6-54 TD.
Punting – Havlovic 5-152, 30.4 Avg.
KO returns- Robley 1-20
EB: Rezac 13-9, Havlovic 11-9, Robley 7-4, Makovicka 5-1, Bohac 5-4, Rhynalds 5-4.
Banner-Press editor Larry Peirce contributed to this report. See more photos online at thebanner-press.com.