Ethan Valencia didn't score a touchdown Friday night, but he was the steadiest guy at Kinnick Stadium.
While the Wildcats emerged with a 30-13 victory over Omaha North, it was the consistent grind Valencia provided in the second half that kept Millard West unbeaten. Valencia did what seniors do on a night that wasn't one of Millard West's sharpest performances.
The 5-foot-10, 180-pound running back carried the ball 20 times for 110 yards in the second half after the Wildcats scratched out a 14-6 first-half lead.
"We were as flat as this field in the first half," Millard West coach Kirk Peterson said. "How we got up 14-6 is beyond me."
Valencia was happy to be the volume back Millard West needed to eat up chunks of time on key second-half drives. He finished with 130 yards on 28 carries.
"I love being a volume back," Valencia said. "I usually come alive in the fourth quarter. We just got off to a really bad start, but we worked through it in the second half."
Peterson wasn't pleased with how his team got pushed around by the Vikings in the first half, and especially in the first quarter when Millard West had six plays from scrimmage in the opening 12 minutes. North controlled the tempo early, possessing the ball for more than eight minutes, but the Vikings only came away with a pair of Frank Maya field goals.
Not finishing those drives, and several others later in the game in front of 2,200, eventually dictated North's fate as the Vikings fell to 1-2.
"We talked to the kids at halftime about finishing the drives," Omaha North coach Larry Martin said. "They capitalized on their opportunities and we didn't capitalize on ours. Their kids made the big plays when they had their chances."
Millard West senior quarterback Tristen Gomes was a part of several big plays.
The Cal State-Fullerton baseball commit helped the Wildcats get their first first down of the game early in the second quarter, connecting with receiver Dalys Beanum on a 66-yard touchdown pass.
Beanum got behind three defenders along the sideline, tucked the ball away and continued racing down the sideline.
Omaha North's offense continued to stall when the Vikings reached Millard West's side of the field. This time, Maya's field goal attempt fell short, giving the ball back to the Wildcats.
The Wildcats put together a nine play, 80-yard drive that took 4:38 and ended with another Gomes touchdown pass, this time a 21-yard fade pattern to Kaedyn Odermann into the right corner of the end zone.
Millard West started the second half the same way Omaha North began the first quarter, with a long drive that produced a field goal.
Mixing in more option plays like those that began to work late in the first half, the 12-play drive included a pass interference call and ended with a 24-yard field goal by Nasser Nabulsi for a 17-6 lead. The lead grew to 24-6 when Gomes scored on a 3-yard sneak after connecting with Odermann on a 29-yard pass after an Omaha North punt.
The Vikings responded with a quick-strike play. Treon Fairgood Jones broke free from four tackle attempts and raced for a 54-yard touchdown run after Millard West's kickoff.
That's when Valencia took over. He had five consecutive carries to end the third quarter, then carried 10 more times in the final 12 minutes. Valencia had four more carries on the drive that began in the third quarter before Gomes again went the last three yards for the final touchdown of the game.
"We all were really quiet at halftime and we just listened to what the coaches told us needed to change in the second half," Valencia said. "We just came alive."