Cyclones playoff journey ends in first round
Facing the #1-ranked 3A Creston Panthers at their place was already a tough task, but the HCHS Cyclones found themselves down 21-7 to start the second quarter. But a team that has overcome adversity and injuries roared back to life in the second quarter, tying the game at 21, and for a second it seemed like the Cyclones’ recent run to the state championship game might continue. However, the Panthers were too strong, and the Cyclones too shorthanded that their season ended 35-27 in a first round exit.
“A lot of guys stepped up and played the number one in the state to a touchdown,” said Cyclone Head Coach Todd Bladt said. “That says a lot about our kids and their character, on the road, an hour and a half away after we’ve lost here once, got beat by Nevada, and they come down and keep it within a touchdown pretty much the whole game without the two best players on the team, that’s incredible.”
The Panthers took more than four minutes off the clock and scored on their first possession when Senior Cael Turner had a 1-yard handoff to Brennan Hayes, putting the Panthers up 6-0, following by the extra point from Hayes.
On the next Panther possession, Weston Trapp went to Turner for an 11-yard touchdown pass putting his team up 13-0 with just over three minutes to go in the first quarter. Hayes added the extra point.
But the Cyclones came swinging back on their next offensive possession when Senior quarterback Will Arkfeld went to Junior Landen Kaufman for a 72-yard catch and run touchdown, getting his team on the scoreboard, making it a 13-7 game. Junior kicker Nolan Schwery added the extra point.
Creston continued to have a dominant first quarter answering right back with a 25-yard touchdown from Turner to Trapp with just over 30 seconds remaining. The Panthers took a 21-7 lead into the second quarter.
Approaching the halfway point in the second quarter, the Cyclone offense was on 3rd and 7, Arkfeld took matters into his own hands running with the ball to gain a first down, putting his team in position to score.
The Cyclones came through when Arkfeld scored on a quarterback sneak from the 1-yard line putting his team down by eight. Schwery added the extra point.
When Creston got the ball back, Senior Cyclone Matthew Sorfonden had a tackle for a loss that pushed the Panther offense back 13 yards. On the very next play, Junior Cyclone Jozef Reisz came up with an interception lighting up the Cyclone fanbase.
“Jozef had a rough first half, and really turned it around, and played really well in the second half,” Bladt said.
The Cyclones looked like they were not going to go far on offense, but on a 4th and 10, Arkfeld found Reisz to get them to 1st and goal. Three plays later on 4th and goal, Arkfeld had another quarterback sneak approaching the 2-minute mark making it a 21-20 game. Schwery tied the game with the extra point.
When the Creston offense returned to the field, the Cyclone defense was fired up getting solo tackles from Sophomore Jackson Bieker, one from Junior Caden Bruck and Hayden Soma. However, the Panthers were finally able to score just before the half getting a 1-yard touchdown from Hayes, putting themselves right back on top, making it 28-21 at the half.
“We were trying to weather the storm there,” Bladt said. “They had some really good concepts, and they got us, and we had to make some adjustments at halftime.”
Shortly into the third quarter, it looked like the tables were starting to turn in Harlan’s favor when Junior Cyclone Alex Heithoff recovered a fumble, but the offense couldn’t score and the Panthers then got a 2-yard touchdown from Hayes to make it 35-21.
Not long after, Junior Cyclone Lukas Francis who went for 146 rushing yards on the night, busted off a 77-yard touchdown run with just under four minutes remaining in the third quarter, making it a one possession game. Schwery missed the extra point attempt getting blocked by the Panther defense.
“What a night for Lukas Francis,” Bladt said. “I thought Will threw the ball really well. We were just so close on some of those deep balls.
It all came down to the final quarter, with both teams seasons on the line, and only an 8-point difference in the game. When Creston’s offense was on the field, the Cyclones defense was stellar preventing them for adding on with tackles from Bryce Van Baale and Landon Nihsen.
The Cyclone offense returned to the field, hoping to tie the game and on 4th and 10, Harlan used a timeout to step up a first down completion to Brehden Eggerss. When play resumed and with their season on the line, Arkfeld found Kaufman for a first down.
But on the very next play, Arkfeld got hit as he attempted a throw and it was intercepted by Panther Freshman Tom Mikkelsen, putting the Panther defense in line for the eventual 35-27 win.
“It’s a tough situation,” Bladt said. “Some of those guys are walking off the field, and that’s the last time they’ll ever walk off the football field with pads on. It’s not the way you want to do it.”
The Cyclones conclude their season at 6-4, with wins against Denison, Glenwood, Sergeant-Bluff, Perry, Atlantic and Knoxville. 13 seniors won’t return in Eggerss, Arkfeld, Sorfonden, Ian Kearney, Elmer Argueta, Cade Sears, Franz Reisz, Stephen Fah, Quinn Koesters, Noah Schmitz, Jason Erlemeier, Gavin Bruck, and Kyre Nielsen.
“They’re going to be missed,” Bladt added. “One thing they’ve done and left is the drive and I think the kids know what it takes to win and how hard and what an edge winning is in football. Everybody always says winning is easy in Harlan. It’s not, it takes grit, it takes hard work, it takes dedication, it takes kids committing to the team, putting the team above themselves.”
Bladt credited his coaching staff for the job they’ve done, along with all the time they commit to the program with helping the players.
“Kudos to my coaching staff,” he said. “These guys put in so much time and so much energy. They don’t complain. They’re putting these kids in front of their families in a lot of ways, and I just really respect what they do. I respect the energy they put into the program. I’m very thankful to have them and be a part of what we do here in Harlan.”