Grand Island Senior High’s quick-strike combination of Ace McKinnis and Broc Douglass helped the Islanders christen newly renovated Memorial Stadium in style Friday night.
The No. 8-rated (Omaha World-Herald) Islanders raced to a 33-0 halftime lead and rolled to a 47-7 win over Lincoln High, improving to 2-0 on the season. McKinnis set up two first-quarter touchdowns with a 52-yard run and a 41-yard fumble return, while Douglass accounted for the next three TDs with scoring receptions of 9 and 81 yards, sandwiched around a 64-yard punt return TD.
“When you can get big plays early, it just swings the momentum right in our favor and it can carry the whole team for the rest of the game,” said McKinnis, who had two interceptions in Grand Island’s 32-31 season-opening win at Kearney. “We were all talking about it in the locker room how we had to come out firing and that we can’t overlook any of these teams. Big plays early like that just get the whole team going.”
Douglass had 162 all-purpose yards, finishing with four receptions for 101 yards. His 81-yard TD reception from Cahoy was a career long and helped the Islanders get out of a first-and-25 jam.
“Three plays in a row before that, their corner was playing pretty tight on me and they didn’t look like they had much help over the top, so I just told our coaches, ‘I can beat them deep,’” Douglass said. “They called the play, Carson threw a beautiful ball and we got the score there.”
After leading Class A in punt return yardage last season, Douglass got back into the groove with a 64-yarder for a TD, putting the Islanders ahead 26-0 with 9:23 left in the second quarter. It was the senior’s third career punt return for a TD, coming one week after he mishandled a punt and had to scramble to make the recovery against Kearney.
“I always want to be aggressive on those punt returns — I’m not going to shy away because of a bad mistake in last week’s game,” Douglass said. “I caught this one, looked up field and saw open space and my guys got good blocks for me and Caleb (Francl) got out in front of me to make that final block.
“My team opened it up for me and I was just able to take it to the house.”
Grand Island coach Jeff Tomlin liked his team’s fast start.
“Obviously, Broc’s punt return and big touchdown reception were big and Ace is a multi-tool guy who really had a nice first series and almost scooped and scored on the fumble as well,” Tomlin said. “Those two guys are catalysts for our whole team, offensively and defensively.”
Tomlin also said he was pleased with how Grand Island responded after a hard-fought win in the season opener.
Lincoln High (0-2) was coming off a 63-6 loss to top-rated Bellevue West in its season opener, but the Islanders showed no signs of having a letdown.
“There were times in practice that we got after them pretty good this week because I didn’t know if the focus was all there at times, but the kids came out ready to play,” Tomlin said. “I thought we showed that we can be a very good team.”
Grand Island’s defense shut out the Links in the first half and limited them to 204 total yards for the game, while producing four turnovers. Cornerback Alex Hinken had two interceptions, safety Blake Leiting added a pick and linebacker Jordan Hofeldt led the Islanders with seven total tackles.
“There were some good things — particularly in the first half where we shut down their interior running game forced them into some perimeter stuff and forced them to throw,” Tomlin said. “In the first half, I’d give us a pretty good grade. In the second half, we were on our heels a little bit for Lincoln High’s scoring drive, but we’ll make the corrections.
“It’s good for coaches to be able to teach and have something to harp on them about that we didn’t do very well, but I’m proud of the kids’ effort, I really am.”
Resting several of its starters in the second half, Grand Island still managed a pair of TD drives. Gaven Aken had a 4-yard TD run with 8:02 to play — his second score of the night — and finished with 91 yards rushing on 16 carries. Cahoy was 11 of 14 passing for 168 yards with two TDs and no interceptions.
GISH tacked on a late score as backup quarterback Jaden Jurgensmier hit Augustin Atikpohou on a 20-yard TD pass with 4:29 left.
“Our kids that came in late did a nice job and were focused,” Tomlin said. “Lincoln High had a nice drive on us and scored, but I thought we responded well after that. Jaden ran the offense really well, our running backs ran hard and I thought our second-team O-line did a nice job, giving Jaden time and creating some seams.
“Tonight was a good opportunity to get some guys with a lot of mileage on their legs and who were a little dinged up some rest in the second half, which will be big for their recovery.”
Tomlin praised the play of Aken and Hinken.
“I was really proud of Alex because he got thrown into the fire as a young player last week and I thought he responded really well,” Tomlin said. “Tonight, he came out really confident. We knew they were going to challenge him and he responded to that challenge.
“Gaven has just been tremendous all year with his effort in practice and how hard he goes on every play. It’s remarkable — he has such a great attitude.”