Arlington High School teacher TJ O'Connor once coached the Eagles for 69 boys basketball games without ever picking up a technical foul from the home bench.
In his Tuesday return as the Fort Calhoun coach, he picked up his first at AHS.
“First and only,” O'Connor said with a smile after the Pioneers' 55-38 road win. “Not a proud moment, but there's a first time for everything I guess.”
The return of two former Arlington coaches — O'Connor, who still teaches AHS science, and FCHS assistant Ben Borgmann — along with one former Eagles starter — Brant Hilzendeger — helped produce a postseason-like atmosphere during the all-Washington County showdown, which already carries large stakes.
“High-intensity game with cross-county rivals,” Arlington coach Tyler Spitser said to describe the annual game. “Same conference, conference game. These are games you always get up for.”
Hilzendeger, a 6-foot-4 junior, certainly was up for it. The former Eagle turned Pioneer scored nine first-quarter points in his first minutes on the AHS floor since his sophomore season. He finished with a game-high 17.
“I'm just proud of him,” O'Connor said. “And he just keeps getting better.”
Fort Calhoun's lead got better, too. It grew from 16-11 after one period to 30-20 through two when Zane Schwarz banked in a 3-pointer with just seconds left before the half.
“Early on, we felt like we had a pretty good plan going in,” O'Connor said. “They figured a few things out at halftime. I thought they made some good adjustments to it to start the second half and we had to adjust a few things to that. But I was really proud of how hard our kids competed.”
Tanner Pittman did for Arlington (7-12 overall) as well. After six points in the first half, he added six during the third period, finishing with a team-best 12. Aiden Foreman added 10 for the home team, but Fort Calhoun (12-7) was a bit too much.
The Pioneers led by as many as 12 during the third period before stretching their lead to as many as 19 during the fourth.
“I liked our energy,” O'Connor said. “I liked our defense.”
Spitser, meanwhile, felt the Eagles could have had a better showing against their cross-county rivals.
“(The Eagles) knew we didn't come out and play our best,” he said.
But Arlington's coach already had plans for Wednesday's practice.
“We'll go short tomorrow,” Spitser said. “It's that time of year. But we'll come out and we're going to work on bringing it early. We try to set the tone in practice right away with just some short, quick drills with a lot of communication and lots of energy right away.”
O'Connor admits his team still has work to do, too. He may have coached multiple years at Arlington, but he's still in his first with the Pioneers after all.
“They've gone through a lot,” the coach said of his FCHS players. “I'm their third coach in three years. We're still getting to know each other. Obviously, me being over here having to bounce over there every day … They've had to go through a lot, but they're kids. They're resilient and I'm really proud to be their coach.”
FCHS pulls away in 2nd half Monday
Hilzendeger and Schwarz combined for 35 points Monday as the Fort Calhoun boys basketball team pulled way from Nebraska City in the second half, winning 65-38.
Playing on their home floor, the orange Pioneers led 27-20 at halftime before outscoring their visitor by 10 during both the third and fourth periods.
Hilzendeger led all scorers with 19 points, while Schwarz had 16. Kaden Therkildsen had nine and Tyler Strauss added eight in FCHS' 11th win of the season.