Papillion-La Vista's defense kept the Monarchs close in Friday's playoff tussle with Omaha Central until the offense found a way to win it.
Alec Ditoro's 12-yard touchdown toss to Jack Kalina with 5:15 remaining snapped a tie and lifted the sixth-ranked Monarchs to a 21-14 victory over the No. 8 Eagles at Foundation Field.
Papillion-La Vista (7-3) will face top-ranked Millard West in a quarterfinal contest next Friday at Buell Stadium.
Papio's defense, which has taken its share of criticism over the past two seasons, held the Eagles to just over 200 yards of offense and shut them out over the final two quarters.
“We don't win this game if our defense doesn't play like that,” Monarchs coach Jeff Govier said. “We may be undersized, but those kids give great effort.
“We have a lot of respect for Central's defense and we knew points would be hard to come by. I think the way our defense played gave us a lot of confidence.”
The Monarchs had to punt on each of their first three series. The first of those punts was returned 70 yards for a touchdown by Tre Sanders to put the Eagles up 7-0 just over a minute into the game.
But Central (6-4) would go its next four possessions without gaining a first down, and the Monarch offense settled in.
Using his arm and his legs, quarterback Alec Ditoro directed a 61-yard scoring drive that tied the game late in the first quarter. Ditoro completed all four of his pass attempts on the drive for 33 yards, then carried the ball in from the 15 for the tying touchdown.
Central's defense set up the Eagles' next score when Kolbie Foster recovered a fumble at the Monarch 35.
Sanders scored four plays later on an 8-yard run as Central reclaimed the lead 14-7 with 5:47 left in the half.
Central's attempt to extend the lead failed on a missed goal to end the half.
Papio's defense forced a punt to start the second half, and the Monarch offense responded with an 81-yard drive in eight plays.
Ditoro completed three straight passes for 56 yards to open the drive before adding a 19-yard run.
He eventually hooked up with Reid Matthias on a 2-yard touchdown toss to even the game with 6:04 left in the third.
Papio's winning drive began with 8:10 left in the final quarter when the Monarchs took over at their own 33.
A 16-yard completion to Matthias and a 15-yard facemask penalty on the next play quickly moved Papio into Eagle territory.
On second-and-10 from the 12, Ditoro found Kalina in the corner of the end zone as he outfought a Central defender for the football.
“We knew this was our last game and none of us were ready to go out yet,” Ditoro said. “The play to Jack was a smash route and I know he can jump, so I just put it up there for him.”
Central had one final march into Monarch territory before three straight incompletions ended the threat at the 33.
Central's final opportunity ended on a fourth down sack from Tyler Koch with 10 seconds left.
Ditoro had a very efficient night. He completed 26 of 33 passes for 206 yards. He also ran for 69 yards.
Matthias had eight catches for 71 yards and Lucas Hostetler hauled in six for 56.
It was a night that belonged to a Monarch defense that shut out an opponent in the second half for the third consecutive game.
“We've gotten better each week,” senior linebacker Nick Lechtenberg said. “Our goal is to shock everyone.”
Omaha Central (6-4) ............................ 7 7 0 0—14
Papillion-La Vista (7-3) ............................ 7 0 7 7—21
OC: Tre Sanders 70 punt return (Nick Rock kick)
PLV: Alec Ditoro 15 run (Gage Romans kick)
OC: Sanders 8 run (Rock kick)
PLV: Reid Matthias 2 pass from Ditoro (Romans kick)
PLV: Jack Kalina 12 pass from Ditoro (Romans kick)
Rushing: OC, Aaron Wright 12-65; Cameron Dorsey 13-48; Sanders 12-45; Kolbie Foster 2-12; Kaleb Johnson 2-5; Malik Sams 1-3. PLV, Ditoro 13-69; Sean Van Briesen 20-54.
Passing: OC, Dorsey 4-16-0-38. PLV, Ditoro 26-33-0-206.
Receiving: OC, Malik Harris 2-4; Chance Hall 1-24; Sams 1-10. PLV, Matthias 8-71; Lucas Hostetler 6-56; Kalina 4-38; Jalen Allison 4-25; Van Briesen 3-11; Mitch Prante 1-5.