Bellevue West experienced the highs and lows of high school football within a one-week span.
After a heartbreaking loss to Millard North seven days earlier, the Thunderbirds produced one of the biggest wins in school history Friday night by stunning No. 1 Omaha North 35-30 at West Stadium.
It was the first loss of the season for the Vikings and left Class A without an unbeaten team heading into the final week of the regular season.
Coach Mike Huffman's Thunderbirds lost a 50-49 overtime decision to Millard North and also lost their best defensive player, linebacker Mike Gilbert, to a knee injury.
“When we got back to practice on Monday, you couldn't even tell we had just lost a nailbiter,” the first-year Bellevue West coach said. “One thing I'll say about our team is that they have so much character and they believe in each other.”
West seized the early momentum by going 75 yards on its first possession, ending the drive with a 2-yard touchdown run from Cole Patterson and a 7-0 lead.
But the Vikings quickly answered with a 37-yard scoring run from Calvin Strong, then blocked a punt to set up a short Nicolas Polito field goal and a 10-7 lead.
They appeared to be ready to build on that lead when Strong broke through for a 60-yard run before being chased down by Malik Hluchoweckyj at the Thunderbird 9.
It would be the first of three plays Hluchoweckyj would make in a five-play span that changed the momentum of the game.
On North's next play, Hluchoweckyj got his hand on a Payton Nelson pass and deflected it to teammate Ryan Curl for an interception.
Three plays later Hluchoweckyj sprinted down the sideline and hauled in a 90-yard touchdown pass from Brad Brazeal to give West a lead it would never lose.
“Malik has tremendous talent, but we don't always see him go as hard as he can,” Huffman said. “But he runs Calvin down, deflects a pass, then gets a touchdown.”
Hluchoweckyj said chasing down Class A's leading rusher from behind probably surprised most people — including himself.
“I'm confident in my abilities, but it did surprise me,” he said. “Calvin and I are pretty good friends, so I might have to give him a little grief about that.
“After that, I was able to get my hand on the ball of the interception and then we actually checked into that play that resulted in the touchdown.”
Bellevue West stretched its lead to 21-10 on Brazeal's 16-yard scoring strike to Cade Johnson, who made a one-handed grab while keeping his feet inbounds.
The dagger may have been delivered late in the half when West took over at its 8-yard line following a Keenan Humm interception with 54 seconds left.
Rather than play it safe, the Thunderbirds ran four plays to the Viking 47.
Brazeal then hit CJ Johnson on a crossing pattern and Johnson flipped the ball to Hluchoweckyj at the Viking 35 and he went untouched into the end zone with eight seconds left in the half.
“We call that our “money play” and we practice that every Thursday,” Huffman said. “Brad threw a perfect strike and CJ made a great flip to Malik.”
West built its lead to 35-10 to open the second half when Patterson capped off a 64-yard drive with his second 2-yard touchdown run of the night.
North made a furious rally over the final 20 minutes as Strong scored on runs of 10, 9 and 7, the final score coming with 3:14 remaining and North with all of its timeouts unused.
But two Brazeal runs, including a 3-yard sneak on third-and-2, allowed West to burn the remaining time.
Brazeal finished 24 of 32 for 385 yards. Hluchoweckyj (154) and CJ Johnson (132) eclipsed the century mark receiving. Brazeal also added 82 yards on the ground.
Strong added to his Class A-leading total with 276 yards on 31 carries and four touchdowns.
Both teams have difficult district games to end the regular season. North faces Millard North while the Thunderbirds meet Omaha Burke.
Omaha North ............................ 10 0 6 14—30
At Bellevue West ............................ 7 21 7 0—35
BW: Cole Patterson 2 run (Chris Hahn kick)
ON: Calvin Strong 37 run (Nicholas Polito kick)
ON: FG Polito 29
BW: Malik Hluchoweckyj 90 pass from Brad Brazeal (Hahn kick)
BW: Cade Johnson 16 pass from Brazeal (Hahn kick)
BW: Hluchoweckyj 35 lateral (Hahn kick)
BW: Patterson 2 run (Hahn kick)
ON: Strong 10 run (kick blocked)
ON: Strong 9 run (Polito kick)
ON: Strong 7 run (Polito kick)
Rushing: ON: Strong 31-276; JaVaughn Perkins 2-13; Payton Nelson 3-12; Marquise Lewis 1-37. BW: Brazeal 17-82; Patterson 11-47; Hluchoweckyj 5-20; Ryan Plambeck 5-8.
Passing: ON: Nelson 7-23-2-93. BW: Brazeal 24-32-2-385.
Receiving: ON: Lewis 3-53; Grant Martin 1-8; Perkins 1-15; Davion Reed 1-10; Tavion Seals 1-7. BW: Hluchoweckyj 6-154; CJ Johnson 11-132; Cade Johnson 5-78; Patterson 2-22.