Ashland-Greenwood handed the ball off to 190-pound senior back Bryce Kitrell on 2019's first play.
The Fort Calhoun Pioneers, wearing brand new white, black and orange uniforms, stuffed it.
“We did really good things defensively,” football coach Andrew Christensen said at the road game's conclusion Friday night. “Thirty-seven points doesn't really look like that, but for a big majority of the game our defense really settled in and was flying around.”
The Class C1 No. 5 Bluejays often had to grind for yards on first and second down, but made the necessary plays on third- and fourth-down conversions to beat the Pioneers handily, 37-14. The loss dropped Christensen's team to 0-1 out of the gate, but it didn't temper his expectations for what this season of Fort Calhoun football can be.
“We were giving up one play here and there, that was just the difference,” he said. “It goes down to little details that we didn't get done, but they were all things that are fixable. They're all things that we're going to learn from.”
While Kitrell's first rushing attempt of the season was stuffed, the Ashland-Greenwood back eventually put the Bluejays ahead on a 1-yard touchdown run. With 4:06 left in the first quarter, he added a 2-yarder to push the home team's lead to 12-0.
Ashland quarterback Hunter Washburn later added to that advantage with a 51-yard scramble, but couldn't quite guide his receiver into the end zone on the final play before halftime. Fort Calhoun's Tyler Strauss shut that pass-and-catch play down at the 1 1/2 yard line, keeping the Bluejays lead at 18-0, instead of 24-0.
All the while, though, the Pioneers' offense couldn't quite get into gear to keep up.
“Offensively, we just weren't clicking,” Christensen said. “So, it was important just to get four-quarter reps and see if we could get something positive at the end.”
That Fort Calhoun did.
Trailing now 37-0, the Pioneers scored their first touchdown of the season on a fourth-quarter fourth down play from the Ashland 4-yard-line. Quarterback Grant Halford connected with Strauss on a scoring pass set up by Cole Klabunde's fumble recovery and a long pass to sophomore Zane Schwarz, who reached the 10-yard-line.
Schwarz was rewarded with his own touchdown catch with 2 seconds left in the game. He caught a 25-yard pass, which also came from Halford.
“We're young and we're learning, but our guys love to play,” Christensen said. “They didn't give up and I'm really proud of them for that aspect. We've just got to clean up the details of the scheme, and I know they're going to do that next week. They're a great bunch of kids that always come back strong.”
The Pioneers host Auburn at 7 p.m. Friday in their home opener.