ELKHORN — Through two games, the Central football team is averaging 41 points per contest.
So yes, the Falcons can score.
But the question remains: Can the Falcons, who beat Lake Geneva Badger for the first time since 2006 in Week 1, stop offenses on a consistent basis?
That was the problem against host Elkhorn on Friday night, as the Falcons once again showed flashes of greatness but couldn’t sustain it for 48 minutes in a back-and-forth 46-41 loss in a Southern Lakes Conference shootout.
The Elks were celebrating Homecoming, and the home crowd — though socially distanced and at 25 percent capacity of the usual flood of spectators at a home game — was loud and rowdy for its squad.
A deviation from the Falcons game plan late in the fourth quarter resulted in two critical mistakes, and the Elks capitalized.
Two interceptions of Central junior quarterback Michael Mulhollon, one that deflected off a receiver’s hands and another that was thrown right at an Elkhorn linebacker, led to two Elks rushing touchdowns.
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Elkhorn totaled 495 yards rushing and six touchdowns, none bigger than Jake Mogensen’s 72-yard, game-clinching jaunt to the right corner of the end zone with 6 minutes, 23 seconds remaining in the game.
“It’s a tough loss,” first-year Central coach Jared Franz said. “There were some good things, but hats off to (Elkhorn) coach (Todd) Ghilani. He’s doing some great things over here. We didn’t like the ending, but it was a well-fought game.
“It’s been a challenge this year. I knew it would be a lot of work being a head coach, and all the COVID stuff makes it different. But today the results weren’t there, but we’re going in the right direction.”
It was all good earlier in the night for the Falcons.
The marathon game, which lasted more than three hours, featured four lead changes and a tie, but don’t get it twisted.
Central was in control of the game early on.
Junior Jakob Simmons’ second touchdown, a 20-yard rush, gave the visiting and much younger Falcons (11 seniors on the roster) a commanding 27-7 lead.
Simmons finished with 172 yards on 24 carries with three touchdowns.
But there were still 6 minutes left in the first half, and the potential blowout sparked a fire on the Elkhorn sideline.
Three scoring runs, two from Jake Rockweiler of 65 and 12 yards and one from Connor Lom, capped a 20-0 run that tied things at 27-27 midway through the third quarter.
Mulhollon, who finished with five interceptions, also made several big plays and showed how extremely dangerous the Falcons can be on offense.
On third-and-long from his own 3-yard line, Mulhollon lofted a deep ball to speedy junior Kenneth Garth, who zoomed down the right sideline for 97 yards to give the Falcons a 33-27 lead after the extra point failed.
The perfect spiral from the lefty quarterback was just another example in this early season of the Falcons’ dynamic playmaking ability.
“We have some talented players,” Franz said. “We need to protect the football more. When we do that, we have a pretty dynamic offense. Defensively, we’re young, and the guys are learning the system. We’ll get there.”
Logan Page answered for Elkhorn with a 96-yard touchdown run, and the extra point gave the Elks their first lead at 34-33.
Simmons came right back with an 18-yard, bulldozing run where he punished several Elks defenders. But Central’s 41-34 lead would be its last, because the Elks’ big plays continued to gash the Falcons.
Lom’s 22-yard touchdown run after an Elkhorn interception cut the lead to 41-40, since the extra point was pushed wide right.
But then, on 3rd-and-7 at midfield with 7 minutes to play, Mulhollon thought he had his tight end wide open across the middle for a first down. The bullet landed in senior linebacker Logan Page’s breadbasket, and he held on for the game’s biggest defensive play.
After a holding penalty on first down, Elkhorn was taken back to its own 28.
On the very next play, Mogensen took a belly handoff off left tackle, didn’t like what he saw and reversed his field back toward the right sideline. The 5-foot-10, 171-pound senior went untouched for the long, clinching touchdown.
He finished with 210 yards rushing, and Jake Rockweiler added 168 yards on 16 carries.
Mulhollon was 14-for-27 for 259 yards with two touchdowns and the five picks, and the 6-foot-4 junior basketball player added 84 yards and a score on the ground.
Senior Kyle Mitchell chipped in 64 yards rushing on 11 carries.
Garth finished with three catches for 108 yards, and Jack Rose — another basketball standout at 6-4 — caught six balls for 87 yards.
Junior Zach Kazumura added four catches for 34 yards.
Of the gaudy offensive numbers and the Falcons’ promising 1-1 start, Franz said it’s a different brand of football, something Central hasn’t seen in years.
“Every day is a blessing,” Franz said. “We can’t and don’t take anything for granted.
“Number one is the culture. These guys believe they can compete and win every Friday night. You have to have heart and desire, and this crew has it.”