K ENESAW — Jeff Nienhueser can get pretty excited while cheering on the Blue Devils from the sidelines with the Kenesaw faithful. And there was a lot to cheer about on Nov. 12, as the Blue Devils earned their first trip to the state championship football game since 1990.

The accomplishment stirred a flood of emotions for the Kenesaw native. Not only did he coach several of the current Blue Devil players when they were going through the youth football program, but Nienhueser was also the quarterback of that 1990 Blue Devil squad that advanced to the state finals.

“That was a fun year,” he said, recalling the team’s 1990 playoff run. “Everything kind of came together, and we had a good run that year.”

On Nov. 12, Kenesaw defeated Bruning-Davenport/Shickley 36-6 for its first semifinal victory in 31 years, almost to the exact day. A lot has changed in those three decades, including the Blue Devils’ style of play; Nienhueser slung the ball all over the gridiron back in his day, while the current squad is about as ground-and-pound as a team can get.

But, at the same time, there are a lot of similarities in the two teams’ playoff runs. And the most prominent is the support from the Kenesaw community, a small town with big dreams.

“The community support here is just awesome, and that’s never changed. And that’s really cool,” Nienhueser said.

“Most of these boys or the girls on the volleyball team, they’re all our kids or our friends’ kids,” said Travis Sidders, a receiver on the ’90 team. “Their kids are out here, and it’s neat getting to watch the next generation do it.”

The Kenesaw community may not have been expecting that run to the finals in 1990 — heck, according to former defensive back Brad Parker, the players weren’t even really expecting to be in the championship game. But the town went every step of the way with the Blue Devils, even all the way to Mullen for the game and then back home to Kenesaw after the heartbreaking loss.

Now, some of the players are doing their part to give back to that same community, by coaching up the town’s youth or by supporting the current team’s playoff run.

“They had a big part in our program at the fifth- and sixth-grade level and got this thing started,” Kenesaw head coach Craig Schnitzler said. “Jeff Nienhueser, he was our head coach for many years at the fifth- and sixth-grade level and there were a lot of helpers with that. Their support to give their time and effort is truly appreciated. Our kids have learned the game of football at a young age and they’re very proud of what they do.”

The 1990 squad had a close-knit senior class that used to play pickup football games on Main Street, according to Sidders. He said nearly all of that class still lives in the Tri-City area.

“It must have been something special, because we all stuck around,” he said. “It’s pretty cool to watch these kids do the same thing. Hopefully they can keep going.”

Kenesaw’s win on Nov. 12 advances it to the state championship on Nov. 22 at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln. The No. 1 ranked Blue Devils, seeded seventh in the state tournament, will face the No. 1 seed Sandhills/Thedford.

Nienhueser doesn’t get to talk with the boys on the team quite as often as he did when he coached them in their youth, but he hopes they know they have the opportunity to do something special, in bringing the town its first state title.

“You guys got a chance. Go take that thing. We’ve been waiting (for a title). We’re still waiting,” he said. “Especially if you’re a senior, this is your last run. Just leave it all out there and see what happens.”

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