Taylor Time: Football beat Writer Predicts State Semifinals

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Four teams. Three games. A state title.

Before the Nebraska high school football season comes to an end, a state champion must be decided. All four of these teams have gone through 11 long weeks of the season and still find themselves standing close to the top of Class A. Two more weeks, and a champion will be decided. Both games this week will set the stage at Buell Stadium at Millard South High School. It looks to be an enticing Friday double header of football. Here are my predictions for the 2019 Nebraska Class A semifinal matchups. 

 

#3 Millard South Patriots (10-1) vs #7 Omaha Westside Warriors (9-2)

Location & Time: Buell Stadium @ 4 p.m.

Pregame:

The day slate will be a great start to Friday evening. The second set-up of the season between these two teams might show quite a different story from the first. Before last week’s game, even I felt a little worried that if the Warriors got to this stage, it might be a struggle. In the regular-season matchup between these two teams, it seemed the Warriors couldn’t quite find an answer for Isaiah Harris and the Millard South Patriots. Harris, who leads Class A in rushing yards this season, put up 320 yards and scored 4 touchdowns in the regular-season finale, his biggest game all year. However, after last week’s quarterfinal matchups, these two teams have gone very different ways. 

The Warriors went down to Seacrest Field in Lincoln to face off against the second-seeded Lincoln Southeast Knights and blew many critics’ expectations out of the water entirely. For the first time all year, Nick Halleen, previously the second-leading rusher in the state, was held to under 100 rushing yards with at least ten carries. The Warriors’ defense held the entire Knight offense to only 168 total yards on the night, shutting them out 35-0. In arguably their greatest defensive game all year, the Warriors proved to a lot of people that they have grown and gotten better. With this, the Warriors have also gotten help on how to stop Isaiah Harris. In last week’s quarterfinal matchup, the sixth-ranked Grand Island Islanders held Harris to 5.4 yards per carry compared to his season average of 11.9. If the Warriors can continue the great defensive night they had last week, along with fixing some of their mistakes from the regular-season matchup, they will be in good shape to hand the ball to the offense. 

For the offensive side of the ball, the Warriors will benefit a lot from an air-heavy game. In Millard South’s quarterfinal matchup against Grand Island, the Patriots showed a lot of weaknesses with their pass defense. The Islanders aired it out much of the night, scoring three passing touchdowns and even leading by double digits after the first quarter. With loads of options at wideout, quarterback Cole Payton should be able to stay comfortable in the pocket and continue his recent ways.

Although both of these teams have had great years, it comes down to where each of them are right now. In just a few short weeks, the Warriors have worked through their past mistakes and look to be one of the toughest defenses in all of Class A. The Patriots have a strong offense and put up amazing numbers in these two teams’ last meeting. Although many may argue that Millard South is truly the better team, the Warriors have become the most improved from the start of the year, and even in recent weeks. In my opinion, the Warriors, for the first time since 2013, will head to the Class A State Championship on November 26th.

Prediction: Omaha Westside 31-27

#1 Millard West Wildcats (11-0) vs #4 Bellevue West (11-0)

Location & Time: Buell Stadium @ 8 p.m.

Pregame:

The battle of the unbeatens. The two final undefeated teams square off in the night slate to determine the last undefeated team. Both teams this year have had astonishingly great defenses, allowing the least and second least amount of points in Class A. The first ranked Wildcats of Millard West have had a much tougher road in order to do so. Five out of their 11 games so far this season have been against top 10 ranked opponents, and they’ve shown that they can play with anyone. No opponent this year has been able to get within a single score of the Wildcats at the time the clock hits zero. With an offense led by Tristan Gomes under center and the second-fewest points allowed in all of Class A, the Wildcats make a very good case for them to head to the state championship. 

On the other side of the ball, the Bellevue West Thunderbirds have run through this season with comparative ease. Even though the Thunderbirds have had a comparatively easy schedule, they have not let any of the teams opposing them even have a shot at getting into the game. In the quarterfinals against the fifth-ranked Burke Bulldogs, the Thunderbirds’ defense held the Bulldogs to only 148 total yards and shut them out 48-0. Bellevue West has had the best all-around offense all year and will look to unload on the top-ranked Wildcats. Many people might see this as an upset, but the Thunderbirds have arguably been the best team in the state and haven’t shown any weakness. With blowout wins all season, the Thunderbirds have been on high alert all year, ready to strike at any opportunity they can get. They are not afraid of anybody they face.

This matchup comes down to who is more explosive and physical as a team. Millard West showed some weaknesses physically last week against Elkhorn South and haven’t had as much of an explosive offense that the Thunderbirds have under their belt. After falling short in the semifinals last year, the Thunderbirds should be able to head to the Class A State Championship on November 26th.

Prediction: Bellevue West 45-33

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