Flying high: Ness City captures Eight-Man Division I state title
By KLINT SPILLER
NEWTON -- Ness City High School football coach Chris Bamberger momentarily choked up when he spoke to his team after the game.
After what his team accomplished this season, it's difficult to blame him.
The Eagles (13-0) completed their perfect season by defeating Mankato-Rock Hills 40-8 in the Eight-Man Division I state championship game on Saturday at Fischer Field.
"I think the best feeling for me is these boys got what they deserved," said Bamberger, who is in his third year coaching at Ness City. "They worked so hard for this."
After the game, the Ness City seniors hoisted the state football trophy for the first time in school history.
Ness City might have been empty Saturday, as hundreds showed up to support the Eagles.
"It's absolutely incredible," said senior fullback/linebacker Dalton Gantz. "This is about so much more than just a football team. It's about our community coming together."
Gantz dominated in the game, rushing for 154 yards and two touchdowns and catching three passes for 49 yards and a score.
"He's been like that all year," Bamberger said. "Whenever we needed him, he's been ready to step up. That's the way all those seniors have been."
The offense struggled to punch the ball into the end zone at first, but the defense answered like it has all season, containing Rock Hills (11-2) to just 40 yards of offense in the first half and scoring two defensive touchdowns in the game.
The Grizzlies managed just 153 total yards.
"Once we start getting our defense rolling, the offense comes next," said senior quarterback/cornerback Koltyn Ratliff, who scored on an interception return in the fourth quarter.
Ness City dominated with its rushing attack, generating 273 yards on the ground, but Ratliff had a solid game through the air as well.
With the exception of an interception, Ratliff was near perfect, completing 10 of 13 passes for 104 yards and a touchdown.
Rock Hills senior running back Clay Cosand led the Grizzlies with 48 yards rushing and a touchdown, and junior quarterback Chanse Copple completed just 6 of 13 passes for 83 yards and two interceptions.
"(Ness City's defensive players) play incredibly fast," said Rock Hills coach Sam Meyers. "We could tell they were fast on film, but they were even faster in person."
The first quarter ended in a 0-0 tie, as Ness City moved the ball well but failed to get in the end zone.
The first score of the game didn't come until 10:07 remaining in the second quarter.
Backed up in their own territory, the Grizzlies attempted a punt and senior defensive end Tucker VonLehe blocked it, and senior cornerback Will Frusher recovered it in the end zone.
"We needed a spark, and those boys were willing to go do it," Bamberger said.
The Eagles' defense stepped up again on the next possession, forcing a three-and-out, and Ness City's offense responded by driving 46 yards. The Eagles capped the drive with a 7-yard touchdown pass from Ratliff to Gantz.
Following another three-and-out, Gantz took the possession's first snap out of Ness City's Wildcat formation and broke it for a 61-yard touchdown to go up 20-0.
Neither team moved the ball well in the third quarter, but Ness City added two quick scores early in the fourth.
Ratliff capped a 36-yard drive with a 1-yard touchdown run, and he scored another on Rock Hills' next possession, picking off a screen pass for a 14-yard interception return.
The Grizzlies finally got on the scoreboard with 4:04 remaining, as Cosand capped a 54-yard drive with a 1-yard touchdown run.
Rock Hills' touchdown ended a 12-quarter shutout streak for Ness City's dominant defense.
"It really was (frustrating to see the streak end), but at that point with the clock winding down, we could tell we were going to be state champions, so I could care less at that point," Gantz said.
With the game in its waning moments, Gantz added the final touchdown, bulldozing a defender for a 22-yard run.
The state championship was a perfect ending for Ness City's season.
Ness City crushed every team it faced, posting a 43.8 average margin of victory and nine mercy-rule victories.
The 22-point victory against Rock Hills actually tied with Hoxie's 38-6 loss for the closest a team has played the Eagles this season.
"It feels amazing," Ratliff said. "Words cannot describe how good this feels. We are just one big happy family right now."