Taylor Time: Football Beat Writer Predicts State Championship

Two teams, one game, one goal. The biggest game on the biggest stage sets up the best two teams in all of Class A on the night of Tuesday, Nov 26, and the game will not disappoint. Coming into this matchup, I am holding a 14-0 record in the postseason. The magic number 15 is very close to reality. Here is my prediction for the 2019 Class A State Championship game:


#7 Omaha Westside Warriors (10-2) vs #4 Bellevue West Thunderbirds (12-0)

Location & Time: Memorial Stadium in Lincoln Nebraska on Tuesday, November 26th @ 7:15 PM


The biggest game of the year has two star-studded teams going up against each other on a cold Tuesday night in Lincoln. The 2019 season has told two very different stories for these teams. One team has grown and fought throughout the season, while the other has leisurely beaten down on all opponents they have faced. The Bellevue West Thunderbirds are the latter of those teams. Throughout the regular season, the Thunderbirds only played three total teams that ended up making the state tournament and only one team ended up getting past the first round. Although the regular season didn’t come up with many challenges, the Thunderbirds didn’t show sluggishness in any of those games. Throughout the regular season, the teams’ average margin of victory was just under 52 points, the highest in all of Class A. 

In the playoffs, the team finally showed what they can do against top-level opponents. After a 42-0 blowout of Lincoln East in the first round, the Thunderbirds went up against the #5 Burke Bulldogs in the quarterfinals. Although many, including myself, thought that this would be a close affair, the Thunderbirds essentially mopped the floor with the Bulldogs. After putting up 27 first-half points, the offense added another 21 in the second to send the Bulldogs home, 48-0. In the semi-final matchup against Millard West, the Thunderbirds showed their first true signs of struggling. For the first time all year, the team looked at the scoreboard while being behind. With the triple option look, along with many plays through the air, the Wildcats gave the Thunderbirds a game and fought for every inch. At the end of the game, it truly came down to who made fewer mistakes and the Wildcats made costly ones late, allowing the Thunderbirds to pull away and send them to the state championship. 

The Thunderbirds this season have put up the best all-around numbers offensively averaging over 230 yards in both rushing and passing. The defense has done much of the same forcing an average of two turnovers a game. Although these numbers have shown the firepower that the thunderbirds have, the team has relied much on their star running-back Jay Ducker. Ducker, who has fought back and forth with Millard South’s Isaiah Haris for Class A’s leading rusher, took the crown after Harris fell behind with a slow two weeks. Ducker has been one of the most renowned running-backs in all of Class A while apart of the team and after last weeks semifinal win against Millard West, where Ducker put up 3 of the teams’ 5 touchdowns, he passed the all-time 11 man football state record for most career touchdowns, at 107. These threats offensively and defensively give the Thunderbirds a good chance at taking home the state title, however, the opponent on the other sideline is a task all on their own.

The Omaha Westside Warriors have been a team of adjustments throughout this 2019 campaign. With star power on both sides of the ball, the team has been up to the level of any top tier team in Class A but wasn’t quite playing like a championship team early in the year. In a week three loss the Lincoln Southeast Knights the Warriors could not quite match for Nick Halleen and the Knight running game. That was such the story for week nine’s matchup against Millard South and the leading rusher Isaiah Harris at the time. Luckily enough, the Warriors got to face both of those teams in the state playoffs, turning the tables severely. After a second blowout of the tenth-ranked Creighton Prep Jr. Jays 49-13 in the first round, the Warriors headed down to Seacrest field in Lincoln. In the quarterfinals against Lincoln Southeast, the Warriors essentially sent the Knights home at the half with a 27-0 lead. Even though the Warriors only put up one more touchdown in the second half, the Knights could not seem to adjust whatsoever offensively and looked sluggish. After allowing Halleen his biggest game of the entire year in week three, the Warriors defense held Halleen to 99 yards on 21 carries his smallest output all year. In last week’s semi-final matchup against Millard South, the Warriors continued their dominance from the week before, holding now second-leading rusher Isaiah Harris to 43 total yards on offense while keeping the entire Millard South offense under 200 total yards on the night. With Nowel, Travis, Haberman, Lucas and multiple others on the line, the Warriors have not only gotten pressure upfront but also protected the offense and allowed them to do their job. The secondary has also been a huge part of the teams’ recent success, grabbing 4 interceptions in their last two games. With defensive-back Avante Dickerson beside Grant Tagge, Jack Wimmer, Koby Bretz, and Trevor Barajas, the Warriors’ secondary looks to make it troublesome for the Thunderbird passing game and hopeful to give the ball back to the Warrior offense.

Although the defense for Westside has been the most talked about part of their game, in recent weeks the offense has been red hot early in games. The Warriors offense, led by junior quarterback Cole Payton, has had many players play their part to help the team succeed. With the high-intensity read-option run game, the Warriors allow themselves to not only pound it on the ground when they need to but also open up opportunities in their passing game. With many options at wideout such as Tagge, Dickerson, Weidemann, Holmstrom, and Guyett the Warriors have loads of players to run within their passing game with. The diversity that the Warriors have all around is a big key for their success. In the Thunderbirds’ semifinal matchup against Millard West, the Wildcats caught the Thunderbird defense off guard with their triple-option look and opened up many play-action pass opportunities. If the Warriors make the right reads and avoid any big mistakes, they have a good shot at holding up the trophy. 

When it comes down to it, the title will come down to the team who’s willing to adjust and fight for four quarters. Bellevue West has the star power beyond anybody in the state, but don’t quite have the experience in high-pressure situations that the Warriors do. Westside showed weakness earlier in the season but as of late have looked to be the best defensive team in the entire state. The Warriors have adjusted to losses and taken down teams that have exposed things that were at one time weaknesses. Whoever starts off the hottest out of the gate and continues it down the stretch will be holding that state championship trophy. To me, the team that has shown that experience and has fixed their weaknesses is the Westside Warriors, and I think they will be taking home the championship trophy for the first time in over 30 years. 


Prediction: Omaha Westside 38-36