Hanover turns over Dighton to win 8M-Div. II state title

Adam Zarybnicky & the Hanover defense forced 7 turnovers in the state title win. (Matt Gilmore)
By: Conor Nicholl for Kpreps.com
Nov 19, 2016

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NEWTON – Hanover senior quarterback Will Bruna suffered a rib injury toward the end of the first half of the Wildcats’ sub-state championship win versus Pike Valley. Bruna wasn’t cleared to play until Thursday.

Senior Adam Zarybnicky, Hanover’s defensive leader, missed the Eight-Man, Division I state game last year because of a season-ending injury. Hanover lost by the 45-point margin to Spearville.

On Saturday, Bruna delivered a standout performance on offense, and a healthy Zarybnicky paced an elite defensive effort. Hanover forced seven Dighton turnovers and defeated the Hornets, 68-22, on Saturday afternoon for the Division II championship at Newton’s Fischer Field.

The Wildcats won the third state title under 12th-year coach Matt Heuer and first since back-to-back crowns in ’08 and ’09. Hanover had lost in the Division I title in each of the last two years. The Wildcats finished 12-0 and joined 1979 as the lone unbeaten squads in school history. Hanover was plus-5 in turnover margin and plus-35 for the season.

The Wildcats finished with 30 interceptions, which broke the eight-man state record of 27 set by White Rock in 2004, according to the Kansas Sports Hall of Fame.

“Losing is the worst feeling ever – that we have ever felt,” Bruna said. “Two years in a row, it was almost unbearable, and we used it as motivation, but of course, you are scared. The thought of losing three in a row, we didn’t even want to think about it, so winning, it’s indescribable right now.”

The game ended with 7 minutes, 36 seconds left in regulation when junior Kevin Diederich picked off Dighton quarterback Tyler Lingg and returned it 14 yards for a game-ending pick-six.

“I don’t know if we could have taken another runner-up finish,” Heuer said. “I am just so proud of these boys, and throughout the whole season, it’s like I told them after the game, all that yelling and all that critiquing to where they thought that I was probably never happy, it was all for this moment right now.”

The final score allowed Bruna’s mother to correctly guess the result for the second straight week. Before the Pike Valley game, she said Hanover was going to win by the 45-point margin. She was right when Hanover won 48-0 – and then offered another prediction for state.

“We knew how explosive Pike Valley is, so our team laughed at her,” Bruna said. “And then we asked her what was going to happen this week, and she said that we were going to 45 them in the fourth quarter, and ending on a pick-six, it’s just incredible. Hats off to our defense. They adapted to the passing game, which we haven’t really faced all year.”

Dighton, at state for the first time, finished 12-1. Lingg, Dighton's senior quarterback, entered the game with 43 touchdowns against four interceptions. He finished 24 of 42 for 251 yards with one score and five interceptions. Dighton senior standout Dylan Foos tallied nine catches for 73 yards.

“We moved the linebacker down to get a little more speed off the edge, and I thought our kids did a good job of responding to that, and I was really impressed with our back end,” Heuer said. “We were OK with giving up some intermediate routes.”

The Hornets had multiple turnovers in the red zone, either on interceptions or fourth downs. 

“We switched up our coverages depending on the formation, so that they wouldn’t know what to expect, and I think that that kind of made it hard for them to read,” Zarybnicky said.

Diederich and sophomore Daiken Stallbaumer each had two interceptions, while sophomore Thomas Atkins and Zarybnicky tallied one. Stallbaumer recorded 10 interceptions this year. As well, Zarybnicky, playing with a left knee brace, recorded a pass breakup and a fumble recovery.

“He is the smartest kid on the team, he knows football,” Bruna said of Zarybnicky. “He is fundamentally sound, and so he is pretty much our defense. He is our solid rock, and having him there, and him getting to come back and play after having to watch us last year – I am really happy for him.”

Senior defensive end Adam Fritschi finished with three tackles for loss, including two sacks, and often went against Dighton junior guard Isaac Torson.

Torson suffered a mild concussion last week and was not cleared until Thursday and barely practiced. Hanover often brought pressure on Lingg and 280-pound junior nose guard Carlos Emanuel played well up front.

“Blitzing with either a linebacker or safety,” Foos said. “Get pressure with Tyler. … We haven’t seen much Cover 3, but it truly worked.”

Atkins’ interception came in the end zone when he jumped high and grabbed a pass one-handed with 9:01 left in the third quarter.

“Last year, it was a really big blow,” Heuer said. “When you have got a kid as smart as Adam Zarybnicky in the middle, and he makes sure that everybody is lined up right, and he makes sure when every single play is going on, you just have that comfort zone.”

Hanover led 20-14 in the second quarter but Dighton had an interception in the end zone off a halfback pass and, then following a Bruna interception, had another pass picked off inside the red zone. The second one came with 3:32 left in the first half. Hanover quickly scored twice following the second miscue.

“We became comfortable,” Bruna said. “The nerves went away, and we started playing our game, and that was a huge factor. Even though we have been here before, you are nervous. We have young kids that played big roles this year, and so of course, they had nerves, too, but everybody kind of got used to the game, they got comfortable.”

Hanover permitted just 72 points this year, the second-best scoring defense among eight-man state champions since ’06.

“Their defense tightened us down there,” Dighton coach Ken Simon said. “We had some issues with Sharon Springs (in sub-state) – same thing, we get down there inside the red zone, and we run out of room.”

Versus Pike Valley, Bruna tackled a player out of bounds and took a knee to the ribs. Hanover took precautions and made sure he had no broken or cracked ribs first. Bruna had bruised muscles/ribs and was cleared Thursday.

“The first couple of nights, it was pretty bad,” Bruna said of breathing. “But it was just bruised, and it got better fast, and I am really thankful for that, and I am really thankful that I got to play my last game with my team and go out on a win.”

Bruna finished 13 of 18 for 235 yards for three touchdowns against two interceptions. Hanover scored the final 20 points of the second quarter and then added an eight-yard run by Diederich to open the third quarter.

Offensively, Diederich collected 47 rushing yards and two scores and 85 receiving yards with a pair of TDs. Sophomore Carter Bruna rushed for four touchdowns, including two in the second quarter, and recorded 10 carries for 85 yards.

“I am happy for him,” Will Bruna said of his brother. “I am happy for our entire offense, and our defense. We played really well, and he stepped up and played a really big game.”

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