The Blair High School defense presented the Bears one last opportunity Friday night.
Trailing 21-14 at Class B No. 9 Beatrice, coach Bryan Soukup's squad earned the football back with 1:47 left and 66 yards to go. After a first-down sack, a short run and a pair of incompletions, though, the Orangemen celebrated a seven-point win. BHS, meanwhile, fell to 1-2.
“Defensively, we played solid all night and that kept us in the game,” Soukup said.
The odds of the Bears reaching the final minutes of the fourth quarter with a chance to tie seemed slim after Deegan Nelson's third-quarter touchdown gave Beatrice a 21-7 advantage. Still, though, Blair played on.
“One thing we showed tonight that I love about this team (is that) they will fight and give everything they have for four quarters,” Soukup said.
With just 5:14 left in Friday's fourth, the Bears started an offensive drive at the Orangemen's 26-yard line. The BHS defense had forced a punt and an unblocked Noah Kuefler got a piece of it, allowing Dane Larsen to pick the ball up and advance it to the 26.
After a first-down pass to Ethan Baessler, Livai Opetaia advanced the ball down inside Beatrice's 10-yard line. Quarterback Bode Soukup later scored on a 1-yard sneak, pulling the Bears within a touchdown, 21-14, after Kaden Sears' extra-point kick.
Ultimately, the touchdown was Blair's second and last for the game. The first came after Beatrice's Austin Burroughs returned an interception for a score less than a minute into the game.
The Bears responded and pulled even when they completed a 4-yard, fourth-down pass with 4:34 left in the quarter. Bode Soukup fit the short slant throw by the Orangemen defender and into Shea Wendt's hands for a touchdown. The pass-catcher wasn't done, finishing with a career-high 168 receiving yards by game's end, according to News Channel Nebraska, which broadcast the game.
As the inexperienced offense grows, coach Soukup said Blair's defense has helped it play competitive games against two ranked foes through the first three weeks of the season. In all, the Bears have held each of their first three opponents to less than 300 yards.
“They keep doing that, it's just a matter of finding ways to win ball games,” he said.
This week, the Bears play at Class B No. 2 Elkhorn on Thursday at 7 p.m.
“We're improving,” Soukup said. “With youth and inexperience, you're going to have some growing pains. But we are getting better, gaining that Friday-night-lights experience each week.”