By Jeff Motz
In what will be three weeks since their epic battle, Lincoln Northeast and Norfolk will meet each other in the quarterfinals of the 2015 NSAA Class A Boys State Basketball tournament.
The Thursday, March 12 3:45pm game at Pinnacle Bank Arena in essence should be a major draw for basketball fans. There may be a few people in Lincoln that may take the afternoon off or get out of work early to catch an unexpected rematch, after Norfolk barely escaped with a 67-66 win at home against Northeast on Feb. 20.
The history between the two schools goes back a long time, but from a rivalry perspective, it dates back to the 1986-87 season.
Norfolk was rated No. 1 when they visited Northeast, who was ranked No. 8, in January that year. A see-saw affair, the Rockets prevailed in the end and upset the Panthers 63-59. Six weeks later, both teams found themselves in the spotlight in front of a capacity crowd at the Bob Devaney Sports Center playing for the Class A State Championship.
Norfolk led most of the game, by as much as 13 points heading toward the fourth quarter when Northeast mounted one of the biggest comebacks in tournament history.
Senior center Brad Richardson and seldom-used junior reserve forward Dan Lesoing sparked the Rocket comeback. Richardson hit a jumper with three minutes remaining, then junior guard Josh Trambly stole an in-bounds pass and scored a layup to pull Northeast to within two at 58-56.
Norfolk center Troy Drahota missed a close-range basket on the next possession. Northeast countered with Lesoing's 15-footer to tie the game at 58 with 57 seconds remaining.
A Panther turnover gave the Rockets the basketball. Richardson was fouled and missed the front-end of a one-and-one, but Lesoing leaped up, grabbed the rebound, went back up and made the put back and was fouled with 32 seconds left. Lesoing converted on the three-point play to put Northeast up 61-58.
Norfolk wasted no time getting the ball down the court. Chris Price, a 6-3 junior forward, was known for hitting outside shots. He hit a 19-footer from the left-wing to pull the Panthers to within one, 61-60 (remember this is one year before the three-point line rule was instituted in high school basketball).
Northeast missed two one-and-one opportunities late and with 8 seconds left, Norfolk forward Chad Feuerbacher grabbed the rebound, found guard Rob Faust on an outlet pass. Faust's lead pass up the floor went to Price who hit a 20-footer from the left corner with 6 seconds left.
Northeast couldn't get a shot off right before the buzzer sounded and the thousands of Norfolk fans who were in attendance raced on to the court and danced on the Devaney Center floor all night long.
For those of you who are new to "the rivalry", that 1987 season may have been the start of an on and off again rivalry between both schools in basketball.
That's the last time the two teams had met in a State Tournament setting. They met one other time at State, in 1986. Northeast beat the Panthers in the quarterfinal before losing to eventual state champ Omaha Northwest in the semifinal.
So, if you head to next Thursday's tourney game at Pinnacle Bank Arena, keep in mind what happened three weeks ago and 28 years ago between those two teams.
LINCOLN CHRISTIAN MAKES C1 TOURNEY
I have to admire the way Lincoln Christian played in the subdistricts and district final last week to get to the state tourney.
Patience and slowing down the game to fit their style of play ultimately proved to be the difference maker. The Crusaders have a tough draw with Wahoo Neumann in the C1 quarterfinal.
Dalton McGerr is key ingredient to Christian's offense. Jared Bubak's athleticism has made a big difference underneath the basket. Isaac Olsen's role of the bench has been key, too. Phil Grothaus, Dylan Chicoine and Ben Jones have been major contributors, as well as Josh Buresh and AJ Carlson.
They'll need to have their A-game against the Cavaliers, who are the No. 1 seed.Click here for Boys State Basketball Tourney Brackets.