Francis Gardler (Lincoln Journal Star)
The Lincoln East Varsity Football Team’s explosive 2021 season came to an equally explosive end with a 59-42 loss to the Gretna Dragons Oct. 29 in the first round of the State Playoffs.
The early playoff loss at Gretna was a disappointing end to an entertaining season. The 6-4 Spartans finished .500 or above for the fourth consecutive year.
This fall’s slate of games saw many highlights, including a season opening win over rival Pius X, a thrilling four-game win streak and record-breaking offensive performances. As the season progressed, the team grew closer together, and team chemistry and camaraderie enhanced, fueling the Spartan surge.
“The team did grow closer together over the course of the season,” said senior Camden Elliott. “As people got hurt, we had to pull resources to keep up with changes.”
The Spartans opened the season on a muggy Thursday night, against the team just down A Street, the Pius X Thunderbolts. The Thunderbolts proved to be a tough test for the Spartans, holding the lethal Spartan offense to just 17 points. However, the offense made the big plays at the right time, with senior Quarterback Noah Walters hitting his favorite target, Cooper Erikson, with seven minutes left. The defense stepped up to stop a Pius X drive late in the game to come away with a 17-14 victory, a big win against a rival.
In week 2, the Spartans traveled to Papillion La-Vista South. The Spartans saw an 18-point fourth quarter lead evaporate as the upset-minded Titans scored 22 unanswered to pull off a 32-28 win.
It was a crushing loss for the Spartans, and it left a sour taste in their mouths as Titan fans stormed the field to celebrate. The Spartans however, did not let the loss get to their head; responding to adversity in a positive manner proved to be a team hallmark. Many players felt that moving on from the loss and focusing on lessons learned would be a good way to respond.
“Keep practicing hard and just believing that you can win, and using the losses as a learning experience in the future games,” said senior lineman, Colin Jones.
This mentality helped the Spartans run off four straight victories by a combined score of 200-47. One of these victories, a 47-10 shellacking of city rival Lincoln Southeast, felt extremely rewarding to players.
“It’s always fun to beat a team within your own city, and especially crushing them after they’ve beaten us for the past while,” said Jones.
It was a memorable season for the Spartan’s quarterback, Walters, who broke the state record for single-season passing yards, throwing for 3,374 yards, shattering the previous record of 3,249 yards set in 2017.
Wins and statistics aside, team chemistry and camaraderie were keys to the season and made for a good culture within the program.
“We all had more fun [as team chemistry grew],” Jones said. “It brought a lot more energy to practice.”