The Blair football team's first drive of the fourth quarter had promise.
Junior running back Dex Larsen and his offensive line ground out a first down with a hearty second down run, and another York defender limped off with what appeared to be a cramp.
The Class B No. 4 Bears, down 7-0, looked as if they'd finally worn down the No. 7 Dukes enough to earn a homecoming victory Friday night at Krantz Field.
Then, on a third and 1 near midfield, a routine handoff never really found its mark. The ball bounced around before York's Wyatt Collingham picked it up, stepped a few yards in the wrong direction and then looped around would-be BHS tacklers on a 54-yard fumble return touchdown.
The Bears had 8:49 left, but never recovered, falling 14-0 in a matchup of teams in the Omaha World-Herald's top 10 — its first shutout loss since 2017.
“No excuses,” Blair coach Bryan Soukup said. “We just didn't capitalize on some opportunities and had some mental mistakes. Against a quality opponent, like York, you just can't do those things. The kids know that.”
What the Bears couldn't figure out, though, was how to finish offensive drives after the Dukes went ahead 7-0 on quarterback Ty Bartholomew's 23-yard first-quarter run.
“Our kids fought hard,” Soukup said. “I told the kids we have a team with a lot of heart, we have a solid defense and we need to keep working on offense.”
Arguably, Blair's best offensive opportunity came at the end of the first half, moving south to north. It started at their own 48-yard-line with 2 minutes left before the homecoming court would come together for a halftime presentation.
Larsen converted a third-and-2 run down to the 30 before, later, taking a screen pass down to the 10 with 26.1 seconds left. Another Jason Stewart pass completion — this one to 6-foot-2 senior Colin Quick — got BHS down to the 3-yard-line.
But that's where the drive stalled.
An incompletion with 12.5 seconds left gave York the ball with the opportunity to kneel out the rest of the clock, though Bartholomew's back foot was nearly on the goal line when he took it.
Still, the Bears were in the game. On the night, they'd tally more offensive yards — 256-164, unofficially — than the Dukes, but were just 9-for-23 on third and fourth down conversions.
“I thought we won the second half with the way we moved the ball and stopped them defensively,” Soukup said. “We just had no points to show for it.”
The tough going offensively had a lot to do with York.
“They're a very disciplined defense. They've prided themselves on great defense as they've built that program,” Blair's coach said. “They've had a solid defense all the way through.”
After the loss that dropped them to 1-1, the Bears stayed on the field with their friends, family and fans as homecoming fireworks filled the air. York left the field, but a few Dukes watched from across the parking lot in front of BHS.
“We're a good team,” Soukup said. “I told them, 'We're no different than we were last year,' 1-1 at the same point and I think we have a lot of things we can improve on and get better.”
The 2018 team finished 7-4 with a first round playoff win. The 2019 team's journey is to be determined.
“We'll see how the rest goes,” the coach said. “One game at a time at this point.”