DWIGHT — Fireworks were shooting into the sky just seconds after the clock hit 0:00.
Almost an hour later, somewhere in Dwight, another quick round of fireworks hit the sky. East Butler was celebrating a spot in the Class D-1 championship.
Behind the play of senior Camden Robley, who had three touchdown catches and two interceptions on defense, the No. 10 Tigers knocked off No. 1 and previously unbeaten Howells-Dodge 22-12 in Monday's state semifinals.
In the process, East Butler avenged a season-opening 26-20 loss to the Jaguars.
A week earlier, the Tigers (10-2) defeated No. 2 Creighton. Now they’re a victory away from winning their first state championship since 1989, when the Makovicka brothers were running wild in these parts.
“There’s just a lot that goes into it,” East Butler head coach Shawn Biltoft said. “There’s a lot of former players out here. A lot of family for these kids, and you know, there’s nothing better than saying we’re going to Memorial Stadium next week.”
East Butler’s passing game has played a big part in this year’s run. The Tigers have senior tight end Trevor Havlovic, a Telegram Super Senior and big target for quarterback Dalton Bohac.
Howells-Dodge (11-1) kept Havlovic in check most of the night. But that opened things up for the Bohac-Robley connection. Robley caught seven passes for 161 yards.
“A lot of teams like to focus on Trevor and it leaves me open and (I) sneak behind the defense,” Robley said.
Robley hauled in a 51-yard touchdown three plays into the second quarter to break a scoreless tie, and he caught a 17-yard touchdown in the corner of the end zone just before halftime.
But Robley’s third touchdown catch was the biggest. The Tigers marched the second-half kickoff down the field and faced fourth-and-goal from the Howells-Dodge 20-yard line. Almost a mirror image of his second score, Robley secured Bohac’s pass in the same corner to push the lead to 22-0.
Howells-Dodge head coach Mike Speirs said he was not surprised to see the Tigers throwing to Robley a lot.
“They go to them (Robley and Havlovic) both equally,” he said. “That’s what kind of makes them tough is a lot of times somebody has one good kid, like they have a big kid, but then to have that Robley kid on the other side ... that makes it tough, at our level.”
Equally impressive was the play of the East Butler defense. The Tigers held Howells-Dodge to 126 total yards, including 59 on the ground. East Butler’s defenders were catching the Jaguars’ runners from behind quite often.
“We probably have the best line in (Class D-1), and they just get after it up front and get a push on the ball,” Robley said. “They’re just really physical and tough.”
Howells-Dodge got to within two scores early in the fourth quarter, but Robley intercepted two passes in the final frame.
“Our kids are just resilient,” Biltoft said. “They play hard, they’re tough, we play a physical brand of football and that’s what we stayed with.”
East Butler faces No. 3 South Loup (12-0) at 10:15 a.m. Monday at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln for the D-1 title.