Millard West's close to the first half left Lincoln Southeast reeling, and then the Knights learned that Nebraska recruit Luke Gifford would be unable to complete his first start at quarterback.
When the blowout ended, Millard West had a 38-6 win that will move the Wildcats to No. 1 in The World-Herald Top 10 next week. In time, by the way, for their rivalry game against defending state champion and previous No. 1 Millard North.
Preseason No. 2 Millard West was clinging to a 7-6 lead, having weathered one Southeast touchdown that had been called back, before getting long interception returns from Connor Wieck and Danny Baker that set up a pair of short-field touchdown runs by Ross Drwal in the final 2:30 of the first half.
“I thought our ability to handle sudden-change situations was big for our kids,'' Millard West coach Kirk Peterson said.
Drwal, a three-year starter at quarterback, was 8 of 14 for 121 yards and two touchdowns and also was the Wildcats' leading rusher with 44 yards on seven carries.
“Last year left a bitter taste,'' Drwal said. “We came out and did our job.”
The Wildcats dropped their 2012 season opener to Southeast 28-21 on the road.
Gifford after the game didn't specify his injury, but the 6-foot-4, 205-pound senior had an ice bag on his right shoulder for a while on the sideline.
He said he was hurt trying to tackle All-Nebraska receiver Skyler Monaghan on a jail-break screen on the second scrimmage play and then took a jolt when Jake Stauffer got the first of four sacks on Gifford.
Gifford said he didn't know whether he would play next week against Lincoln High.
Wieck and Baker snagged the interceptions late in the second quarter for Millard West. Wieck took his pick back 52 yards before Gifford made a saving tackle. Drwal scored on the next play.
Guido had a 20-yard return to the Southeast 11. Drwal scored on third-and-5 from the 6.
On the ensuing kickoff, an illegal block penalty negated a 98-yard touchdown return by Darian Trout-Brown. It followed a holding call in the first quarter that wiped out a 5-yard score by Gifford and, after two sacks, led to Southeast punting on fourth-and-goal from the West 39.
“We had too many mistakes, but that's not to take anything away from them,'' Southeast coach Ryan Gottula said. “We weren't in good enough condition and weren't able to finish the game, and that's on me.”
Trent Hays, a senior, took over at quarterback for Southeast in the second half but doesn't possess Gifford's running ability that Gottula anticipated making a difference.
Gifford scored the No. 4 Knights' touchdown on a 38-yard run with 2:53 left in the first half. Wieck blocked the extra-point kick to preserve a 7-6 lead.
Drwal opened the game with a 12-yard touchdown pass to Nick Lawson. Monaghan made a sliding catch in the end zone for a 30-yard touchdown and a 28-6 lead in the third quarter. Drwal got hit as he threw the pass.
“Ross is a great competitor,'' Peterson said. “People could see tonight he's improved in his throwing.”
Lincoln Southeast (0-1) ............................ 6 0 0 0— 6
Millard West (1-0) ..................................... 7 14 10 7—38
MW: Nick Lawson 12 pass from Ross Drwal (Danny Sandoz kick)
SE: Luke Gifford 38 run (kick blocked)
MW: Drwal 15 run (Sandoz kick)
MW: Drwal 6 run (Sandoz kick)
MW: Skyler Monaghan 30 pass from Drwal (Sandoz kick)
MW: FG Sandoz 31
MW: Cole Neville 18 pass from Zach Johnson (Sandoz kick)
A: 4,200 (est).
RUSHING: SE, Hunter Johnson 9-32, Gifford 10-28, Charles Rosenthal 3-20, Trent Hays 2-5, Darian Trout-Brown 11-22, Logan Bebbe 1-9, Kwame Robertson 1-3, Javier Fa'ali'l 1-minus 1. MW, Drwal 7-44, Victor Beanum 9-43, Johnson 6-23, Dylan Hughes 3-13, Sal Guido 6-7, Thomas Russell 3-9, Monaghan 1-8.
PASSING: SE, Gifford 3-8-2 49, Hays 3-6-0 15. MW, Drwal 8-14-0 121, Johnson 3-4-0 48.
RECEIVING: SE, Trey Beamon 2-35, Beebe 1-7, Johnson 1-10, BJ Day 1-9, Alex Agostine 1-3. MW, Monaghan 5-90, Caleb Conway 2-27, Neville 1-18, Russell 1-10, Bryce Damer 1-12, Lawson 1-12.