A low-scoring first half came as a surprise Friday night in a game between the top two offenses in Class A.
But top-ranked Omaha North got rolling after intermission and proved to be too much for seventh-ranked Papillion-La Vista.
The Vikings scored five second-half touchdowns to post a 41-14 win in front of a homecoming crowd estimated at 4,500 at Kinnick Stadium. The victory boosted North to 7-0 while the Monarchs fell to 4-3.
The game was tied 7-7 at halftime before the Vikings grabbed the lead early in the third quarter on a 20-yard interception return by defensive back Tavion Seals. Papio answered three plays later when quarterback Alec Ditoro hit wide receiver Reid Matthias with a 73-yard touchdown toss.
But from that point, it was all Vikings. North scored the final four touchdowns to turn the close game into a runaway.
“We had to change up some looks defensively against them,” Vikings coach Larry Martin said. “And give them credit, because I thought their kids were playing harder than our kids in the first half.”
Not surprisingly, North went ahead for good behind the tough running of junior Calvin Strong. He broke loose for a 41-yard touchdown run with 5:35 left in the third quarter to put the Vikings ahead 21-14.
Strong, Class A’s leading rusher averaging 248 yards per game, scored his third touchdown of the night later in the period on a 4-yard run. He had scored on a 1-yard run in the second quarter.
“We came out flat in that first half,” Strong said. “We played a lot better in the second half.”
North fans held their collective breath early in the fourth quarter when Strong stayed on the turf after a 3-yard run up the middle. He was helped off the field after a few minutes while favoring his right knee and did not return to the game.
“I’ll be fine,” Strong said. “It got hit pretty hard on that one run, but it doesn’t feel too bad now.”
Martin said his training staff told him that Strong could have gone back into the game if needed.
“He took a shot on the side of that knee,” the coach said. “At that point, we weren’t going to take a chance with it.”
The Vikings put the game out of reach by scoring a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns. Linebacker Cole Bixler recovered a fumble in the Monarchs’ end zone after a high snap sailed over the head of punter Sean Van Briesen, and Seals scored on a 7-yard run.
“They’re a great team,” Papio coach Jeff Govier said. “We made some mistakes tonight and they ended up costing us.”
Ditoro, Class A’s top passer with a 238-yard average, was held to 164 by the Vikings’ stingy defense. He completed 13 of 27 passes but threw two interceptions — both resulting in Vikings’ touchdowns.
Papio’s first drive of the night proved to be its best as Govier’s squad marched 80 yards in 14 plays to nab the early lead. Ditoro capped the drive with a 4-yard scoring toss to Lucas Hostetler.
The Monarchs maintained that advantage until the Vikings capitalized in the second quarter shortly after an interception by linebacker Grant Martin. He returned the pick 25 yards to the Papio 24 and Strong went over from the 1 three plays later to tie the game.
The Papio defense kept Strong in check for much of that first half as he carried 19 times for 69 yards. But he rushed for 123 yards and two TDs in the second half to finish with 192 yards on 33 attempts.
He also caught a 31-yard screen pass late in the third quarter on a third-and-14 play to keep a drive alive that resulted in a touchdown three plays later.
“He’s a great running back,” Govier said. “You can stop him for awhile but he’s persistent and just keeps hammering away at you.”
It doesn’t get any easier for either team next Friday night. The undefeated Vikings travel to eighth-ranked Bellevue West while the Monarchs will play host to fifth-ranked Omaha Burke.
“This schedule is a grind,” Martin said. “But to be 7-0 at this point in the season, I’m very happy with that.”
Papillion-La Vista (4-3) ............................ 7 0 7 0—14
Omaha North (7-0) ............................ 0 7 21 13—41
PLV: Lucas Hostetler 4 pass from Alec Ditoro (Gage Romans kick)
ON: Calvin Strong 1 run (Nick Polito kick)
ON: Tavion Seals 20 interception return (Polito kick)
PLV: Reid Matthias 73 pass from Ditoro (Romans kick)
ON: Strong 41 run (Polito kick)
ON: Strong 4 run (Polito kick)
ON: Cole Bixler fumble recovery in the end zone (Polito kick)
ON: Seals 7 run (kick failed)
Rushing: PLV, Sean Van Briesen 15-81, Alec Ditoro 20-28, Lucas Hostetler 1-3, Drake Childress 3-12. ON, Calvin Strong 33-192, Payton Nelson 5-21, Jason Martin 1-1, JaVaughn Perkins 2-15, Tavion Seals 2-18.
Passing: PLV, Ditoro 13-27-2 164. ON, Nelson 9-20-0 131.
Receiving: PLV, Jalen Allison 5-46, Jack Kalina 2-11, Lucas Hostetler 2-4, Van Briesen 1-12, Reid Matthias 3-91. ON, Davion Reed 4-45, Marquise Lewis 3-53, Grant Martin 1-2, Strong 1-31.