Ness City pounds Solomon, will play for state title
By NICK McQUEEN
NESS CITY -- Through an 8-1 regular season and the program's first back-to-back postseason wins, the Solomon High School football team boasted a distinct size advantage over most of its opponents.
The Gorillas' advantage on the line of scrimmage fell victim, though, to a technically sound Ness City team Friday night in the Eight-Man Division I sub-state title game -- in a big way.
Ness City rode its stingy defense and the special teams play of senior Garrett Flax to a 48-0 pounding of the Gorillas. The game was called at halftime and Ness City, which hadn't won a playoff game since 1998 (11-man), will make an appearance in Saturday's Eight-Man Division I State Championship game at Fischer Field in Newton.
"They're definitely a good team. I hope they take state," Solomon coach Tim Cross said of Ness City, 12-0 and ranked No. 1 in the statewide media poll. "They played well and they execute well.
"Defensively, they attacked quick and we had a few setbacks with penalties and stuff and we just weren't able to recover from those," Cross added.
Ness City, a defensive juggernaut all season with an Eight-Man Division I low 62 points allowed, was impressive again. The Eagles forced Solomon into a three-and-out on its first possession and Flax made the Gorillas pay. His first of five long punt returns set the Eagles up with an 18-yard field and it took just two plays to find the end zone, a 17-yard and 1-yard scoring run for Flax.
"That's what's great about this football team," Ness City coach Chris Bamberger said. "You just never know who's going to take the bull by the horns.
"Garrett stepped up and got right in there," Bamberger added.
The Gorillas' biggest play of the night came on their next possession. Junior quarterback Colton Shirack found senior Josh Burdine on second-and-long for 43 yards, but the next play Flax struck again. He picked off a Shirack pass at his own 15 and returned it to the house, giving the Eagles a 14-0 lead.
After another long punt return, this one for 43 yards, Flax had the Eagles set up with a 20-0 lead -- five minutes in.
"We knew this was our last game here as seniors," Flax said. "We put a lot of work into this year and we didn't want this to be the last one all together."
Defensively, the Eagles were on a mission. The Gorillas' offense managed just 15 yards on the ground in the first quarter, and trailed 28-0. Solomon averaged 49.8 points per game prior to Friday. Shirack, who rushed for more than 1,200 yards and passed for nearly 800, fueled the Gorillas' 10-1 start.
"We thought if we came out and made our blocks we would get four yards a pop," Cross said. "And, they still were able to fight the blocks and maintain their ground. We weren't able to get a very good push -- tough to move the ball."
Ness City had five tackles for loss, while Solomon hurt itself with six penalties for 63 yards, most of them backing the Gorillas up deep. Shirack finished with 64 yards passing and six rushing.
"Quickness and technique," Bamberger said of combating Solomon's size. "Our kids have never really been the big guys on the field, but they take a lot of pride in technique and fundamentals, and playing hard."
Flax helped with five punt returns for 195 yards, setting the Eagles up with a short field each time. Every Ness City scoring drive started in Gorilla territory, and the Eagles finished with 158 yards of offense to put up 48 points.
"I just got the ball and the blockers set it up and did the rest," Flax said. "Nice to be able to break some big ones tonight."
Solomon finished with 97 yards, 64 coming through the air from Shirack to Burdine.
Ness City will take on Rock Hills (11-1) in Saturday's 3 p.m. game at Fischer Field in Newton, vying for the school's first state football title.
Rock Hills defeated defending state champion Madison-Hamilton, 36-20 on Saturday.
"We just want to keep playing," Flax said. "This season has just been so much fun. We come out each time and fight as hard as we can for one more week."