South claims 24-21 victory in Shrine Bowl
KEARNEY — Ryan Schommer made his presence known at the 60th annual Nebraska Shrine Bowl football game here Saturday.
The former Norfolk Panther helped his North team came from behind twice to tie the score only to ultimately fall 24-21 on a 50-yard field goal from Lincoln Pius X’s Noah McCashland with 6:31 left in the contest.
But if you ask Schommer — as well as the other athletes from Northeast and North Central Nebraska — the final score wasn’t anywhere near as important as the purpose of the game itself that was played at Foster Field on the campus of the University of Nebraska-Kearney.
“This is the most important game I have played in my life so far,” Schommer said. “I have dreamed of playing in the Shrine Bowl, but after the week, playing in the game for the kids made it more important than winning or losing.”
The Shrine Bowl serves as a way to support the efforts by the national Shriners organization to provide health-care services at no charge to children with medical issues.
Schommer finished the game, among other accomplishments, with a sack and a tackle for a 12-yard loss and plans to use this experience to spring-board a career at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
“I always play to win and get better,” he said. “I felt like we were right there as far as the game is concerned and that is all you can ask — I competed with the best in the state.”
Joining Schommer on the North squad were DJ Stephen and Kooper Reece from Valentine, Dylan Gentrup and Jessie Sullivan of Boone Central/Newman Grove, Wyatt Liewer of O’Neill and Alex Lindsay of Pierce.
“I try to stick my nose in the middle of everything on defense,” Stephen said. “I love football, but when we met those kids this week, you really have to stop and think — they are so courageous.”
Stephen finished with double digits in tackles, but, again, it wasn’t really about the game.
“It was a great week,” he said. “We practiced football, we hung out with a bunch of great guys, but in the end, it’s all about those kids — that’s why we’re here.”
Gentrup was happy he came with a teammate, but also learned the reason for the game.
“Jessie (Sullivan) was great at the beginning of the week, he made me way less nervous,” Gentrup said. “But then you meet all of these great guys and coaches — and then the kids. Until then, you don’t know how wonderful those kids are and what they have been through.”
Gentrup’s Cardinal teammate was nearly speechless.
“This is the top beyond the field experience of my life,” Sullivan said. “On the field I’ve played in some big games, but off the field, this one meant more than any of the ones I’ve played. You can’t understand how important this is for those kids.”
And the game itself?
The South scored first with 8:20 left in the first on a one-yard run from Dashawn Bates from Boys Town. After McCashland kicked the extra-point, the South was up 7-0.
A minute later, they were in the end zone again.
The North fumbled on its ensuing possession and the South recovered at the North 26. After a penalty moved the ball back to the 31, Dylan Pautz from Omaha Westside hit teammate Caleb Schweigart behind the North secondary and after another McCashland kick the score was 14-0 with 7:16 left in the frame.
The North responded with a drive of its own, kept alive by a clutch catch from Liewer.
“I ran a post-corner route and Riley (Harms) hit me on the money,” Liewer said.
Although Liewer was happy with the play for his team, he didn’t miss the opportunity to speak about the bigger picture.
“I was really excited to come here and show what I could do on the field,” Liewer said. “Then we met the reason we are all here — it’s hard to explain and it is life-changing. I will never forget the kids and the teammates I met here this week.”
The result of the play set the North up at the South 37-yard line.
Two plays later, Harms, who is from Fremont, found Bryson Krull from North Platte to make it 14-7 after a Brian Cocarrubias kick. He is from Grand Island.
In the second quarter, the North tied it up after Milton Sargbah of Omaha North crashed in from the two with 10 minutes left in the half.
The North forced the South to turn the ball over on downs at the North 33. Four plays later, it hit pay dirt.
The South regained the lead on just three plays after the North score.
Kearney Catholic’s Matt Masker hit Schweigart along the sideline and Schweigart juked and outran the North secondary for a 74-yard touchdown.
After a scoreless third, the North tied it up with a 49-yard touchdown strike from Joe Dolincheck of Bellevue West to Bennett Folkers of Gothenburg with 11:51 left in the fourth before McCashland’s heroics in the waning minutes.
Valentine’s Stephen probably summed it up best:
“It was a great game for a great reason,” he said. “I’ll never forget this.”