Thursday night’s 38-0 win over Aberdeen Central got off to a fairly calm start for O’Gorman quarterback Hunter Thompson. After missing the team’s regular-season finale against Lincoln with a knee injury, the senior was tasked with handing the ball off four times to begin the game.
But when his number was called on the fifth play from scrimmage, Thompson demonstrated that he was more than ready to reclaim command of the offense. He lofted his first pass of the game out to the right sideline, placing it perfectly into the hands of receiver Canyon Bauer for a 35-yard touchdown.
Two minutes into the game, it was 7-0 O’Gorman.
“We had to establish the run to get that safety rolled down,” Thompson explained. “I knew that when he was rolling down, I was going to Canyon on that post and it was just a good connection there.”
That first drive represented a significant step for the Knights, who entered the game determined to establish the run. After using a series of tailback carries and receiver sweeps to start the game, they began using the pass to set up their scoring runs, with Thompson gashing the Golden Eagles through the air before feeding the ball to running back Sam Burnison to finish the drive.
When it was all said and done, Burnison had four rushing touchdowns and O’Gorman had booked a rematch with top-ranked Washington in the 11AAA semifinals.
“It was a heavy run effort,” O’Gorman coach Jayson Poppinga said. “We thought our offensive line needed to set the tone and win the game against a physical Aberdeen team. We’re going to see an even more physical team in Washington next week and we wanted them to have that kind of confidence going into next week.”
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Burnison shouldered the brunt of the workload on the ground, carrying the ball 12 times for 86 yards and the four touchdowns.
His first two scores of the game followed a similar pattern, with the senior tailback bouncing the ball outside when the running lanes collapsed.
Burnison’s next two scores of the game required less savviness and more brute force with him plowing through a few defenders to get to the end zone.
“He’s a hard player, he’s played hard all year,” Thompson said of his teammate. “It was good to see him get some scores.”
“He’s a guy that has ran the ball hard for us all year,” Poppinga added. “Tonight the number kept getting called and he ran really hard. Twice, the hole collapsed and he just kept his feet moving, found places to run and kept putting them in the end zone. It was really nice to see a kid that’s played that hard for as long as he has to have his last night on the Mac be that kind of a game.”
While Burnison did his job on the ground, Thompson was a steady force through the air, completing 13 of 19 passes for 187 yards and the aforementioned touchdown.
If there were any lingering effects from the knee injury that sidelined him against Lincoln, they certainly weren’t apparent Thursday night, as he scrambled a couple of times for 30 yards and looked no worse for the wear after the game.
“The game has slowed down for him all year long and you could see he’s just really comfortable throwing the ball. He made no bad decisions tonight,” Poppinga said. “Hunter played a really nice game. I’m proud of him.”
Not to be overlooked, the Knights defense put together a lights-out performance, recording their second shutout of the season. They seldom even bent against the Golden Eagles, allowing just 120 yards of total offense, including a scant 31 yards through the air.
In fact, it wasn’t until late in the third quarter that Aberdeen Central even got the ball past midfield when a 29-yard carry by Preston Baar got it to the O’Gorman 36. That drive came to an abrupt halt when Tristan Brown’s fumble at the 12-yard line was recovered by Erik Wuestewald.
But before O’Gorman’s defense could catch its breath, it was called upon again when Andrew Rueter’s fumble was recovered by the Golden Eagles at the 11.
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Rather than give up the easy points, the Knights actually pushed their opponents backwards, driving them back four yards on four plays to get the ball back to the offense and, more importantly, preserve the shut out
“It could have been easy to say, ‘Oh, we’re going to let them score,’ but (defensive coordinator Shannon) Poppinga does a great job getting the defense ready,” Poppinga said. “We gave up some yards, but didn’t break. Any time they got into that place where they could have put it in for a touchdown, our defense stiffened up and made plays and got fumbles.”
“The defense put up a zero, even with some of the backup guys in,” Thompson said. “They played awesome all night. Aberdeen Central couldn’t get anything going.”
In order for the Knights to extend their season another week, they’ll have to take out No. 1 Washington, which claimed a 35-14 victory when they met in Week 4.
“We feel like our kids have done a good job improving since the last time we faced Washington,” Poppinga said. “It’s going to be a game of execution and they’re going to come and bring a physical game, a hard run game.”
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Follow Brian Haenchen on Twitter at @Brian_Haenchen .