Conner Matthew’s expression told it all.
The Millard North senior, when asked what his coach said after a sluggish first half, shook his head a little and smiled.
“He wasn’t very happy,” Matthew said.
And for good reason.
Fred Petito’s top-ranked Mustangs put the ball on the ground four times — including on their first two possessions inside their opponent’s 10-yard line. They also had 66 yards in penalties and trailed underdog Bellevue West late in the first half.
But Millard North reeled off the final 28 points, pitched a second-half shutout and remained unbeaten with a 45-20 win over the host Thunderbirds on Friday night.
What was Petito’s message at halftime?
“We got their attention,” he said. “We’re really poised at halftime 99 percent of the time. We told them to stay the course.”
After the teams went back and forth through the first two quarters, Millard North controlled things after the break.
Matthew capped the Mustangs’ second drive of the third quarter with a 35-yard touchdown run, scored from 6 yards out on the final play of the quarter (his fourth score of the night) and had 35 of his 232 yards on Millard North’s final possession, one that quarterback Isaac Aakre finished off with a 5-yard score.
The Mustangs finished with 443 rushing yards.
“The physicalness of our offense, it wears on you,” Petito said. “Sometimes you have to be patient to see results. In the second half, you saw that happen.”
And it came from more than just one source. Aakre, who has done much of the heavy lifting this season for the Mustangs, finished with 147 yards.
But Aakre and Matthew each had a first-quarter fumble with Millard North within striking distance. Matthew was popped in the backfield at the Bellevue West 3 on the Mustangs’ first possession, coughing up a fumble that Bellevue West returned out close to midfield.
The Thunderbirds turned it into points three plays later when quarterback Aaron Seals found Malik Hluchoweckyj for a 25-yard score.
On the next Mustang drive, Aakre fumbled at the West 7, but the ball was kicked forward and recovered in the end zone by Millard North’s Matt Evans.
Bellevue West answered on another Hluchoweckyj scoring catch, a lead that lasted all of 34 seconds. Matthew went in from 4 yards out after Nick DeLuca returned a kickoff to the Thunderbird 9.
The home team looked like it might take a halftime lead when Brad Brazeal went around the left side for a 13-yard score with 1:44 to play in the second quarter. But Millard North’s offense had other ideas. Matthew took a handoff up the middle two plays later for a 57-yard touchdown and a lead the Mustangs would never relinquish.
“We basically got better fundamentally (in the second half),” Matthew said. “Just like Coach told us afterwards. There weren’t different players out there on either side. We just executed better.”
Millard North (7-0).......................7 17 14 7—45
At Bellevue West (4-3)...................13 7 0 0—20
BW: Malik Hluchoweckyj 25 pass from Aaron Seals (Mason Savine kick).
MN: Matt Evans 7 fumble recovery (Andy Bayne kick).
BW: Hluchoweckyj 26 pass from Seals (kick failed).
MN: Conner Matthew 4 run (Bayne kick).
MN: Bayne 37 FG.
BW: Brad Brazeal 11 run (Savine kick).
MN: Matthew 57 run (Bayne kick).
MN: Matthew 35 run (Bayne kick).
MN: Matthew 6 run (Bayne kick).
MN: Aakre 5 run (Bayne kick).
RUSHING: MN, Isaac Aakre 21-147, Conner Matthew 31-232, Clay Fisher 3-45, Steven Price 1-3, Matt Evans 1-16, Grant DeVries 3-12, N/A 1-0; BW, Forrest Waymire 8-33, Mike Gilbert 1-minus 1, Aaron Seals 3-minus 13, Brad Brazeal 2-15.
PASSING: MN, Aakre 2-6-0 32; BW, Seals 10-29-1 217.
RECEIVING: MN, Price 1-23, Nick Roth 1-9; BW, Malik Hluchoweckyj 4-143, Clester Johnson 2-47, Brazeal 2-13, Chris Martin 1-9, Waymire 1-5.
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402-850-0781, firstname.lastname@example.org; twitter.com/nickrubek