WILBER, NE – Wilber-Clatonia has been here before. Eleven straight years in fact.
The No. 5 Wolverines (9-1), who have qualified for the state football playoffs every year since 2008, showed that experience on Friday, coming back from a halftime deficit to down No. 12 North Bend Central, 47-39, in Wilber in the first round of Class C2 action.
The Tigers (6-4) hadn’t been to the playoffs since 2008, but the lack of postseason experience didn’t show.
Junior quarterback Austin Endorf, who led all Class C2 quarterbacks with 2,235 passing yards this season, was as sharp as he’s ever been Friday, completing 22-of-29 passes for 378 yards and six touchdowns.
The six scores tied a season-high.
It took Endorf less than two minutes to throw his first touchdown pass. The junior QB connected with fellow junior Cody Pospisil on a 37-yard touchdown to give the Tigers an early 6-0 lead with 10:36 to play in the first quarter.
North Bend Central failed on the ensuing two-point try.
The Wolverines responded, as senior running back Hunter Cerveny put Wilber-Clatonia on the board with a six-yard TD run at the midway point of the first. The point-after by senior Markus Nystrom gave Wilber-Clatonia a 7-6 lead.
The Wolverines went up 14-6 two minutes later, but Endorf completed an 18-yard touchdown pass to senior receiver John Emanuel in the final 90 seconds of the opening quarter.
Emanuel, who came in with the second most receiving yards in Class C2 (872), had a phenomenal evening, catching 11 passes for 208 yards and two scores.
After the North Bend Central PAT, the Wolverines still led by a point, 14-13, after the first.
That was just the first 12 minutes.
Wilber-Clatonia went back up by eight points when senior quarterback Mike Puliam snuck into the endzone from one yard out, giving his team a 21-13 lead less than three minutes before halftime.
The Tigers, however, scored twice in the final 66 seconds of the half to go into the locker room ahead 26-21.
Wilber-Clatonia hadn’t trailed at halftime since a 38-0 loss to Sutton in week two on Aug. 31.
Both teams went three-and-out on their opening possessions of the second half. After NBC went three-and-out, Tigers punter Ben Rolenc kicked it straight down the field to Wilber-Clatonia’s Tad Moldenhauer.
Moldenhauer fielded the punt and raced 60 yards for a touchdown, giving the Wolverines a slim 27-26 advantage. They never lost the lead after that.
Moldenhauer, a junior, has returned four punts for touchdowns this season.
North Bend Central refused to quit. On 4th-and-goal from the two, Endorf snuck a two-yard touchdown pass to senior Sam Buckingham, but a missed point-after by Joe Howser kept Wilber-Clatonia on top, 33-32, entering the final quarter.
The Wolverines salted the game away late. Pulliam scored on a 14-yard run early in the fourth to give his team a 40-32 advantage.
Senior running back Coltin Rezabek scored his second touchdown of the night five minutes later to give Wilber-Clatonia its biggest advantage of the night, 47-32.
Rezabek, after gaining just 28 yards in the first half, finished the game with 135 rushing yards on 22 carries and a pair of TDs.
Pulliam toted the ball 10 times for 83 yards and two scores. Through the air, he completed 6-of-13 passes for 80 yards.
The Wolverines rushed for 325 yards as a team. The Tigers ran for only 54. Wilber-Clatonia’s defense was especially good on third down. NBC converted on just 1-of-10 attempts.
Penalties also hindered NBC. They had 10 of them for 75 yards. The Wolverines had six for 45 yards.
After winning its fourth straight first-round playoff game, Wilber-Clatonia hits the road next Friday to face No. 4 Oakland-Craig (10-0). Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. The game will be carried on Ol’ Red 99.5.
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