GRAND ISLAND, Neb. — Millard West coach Kirk Peterson had some bad flashbacks early in Friday’s battle of undefeated teams.
On its first play from scrimmage, Grand Island scored on a 74-yard run by Caleb Francl.
But Peterson didn’t have to worry. His defense held the Islanders out of the end zone the rest of the way, and the No. 2 Wildcats topped No. 7 Grand Island 20-7.
Last week, Millard West gave up 13 points before rallying for a 23-13 win against Kearney.
“We did what we did last week — just stick to it,” Peterson said. “It was very similar to last week.”
While it was also a similar start to Millard West’s last visit to Grand Island, the finish wasn’t the same. In the 2014 Class A quarterfinal, the Islanders scored 47 seconds into the game on a 74-yard pass en route to a 21-6 victory.
“Our defense, No. 1, did one hell of a job because they gave up the first one,” Peterson said. “The last time this coaching staff was out here, the same thing happened and I’m going, ‘Oh my God, it’s happening again.’
“The defense did a great job of keeping us in it, and then we did just enough offensively to keep us close in the first half.”
Francl broke two tackles in the backfield, then another as he raced up the right side to the end zone with 9:33 left in the first quarter.
“Our kids were ready to play, and they came out and played very, very hard,” Grand Island coach Jeff Tomlin said. “I thought our effort was outstanding. Millard West is an excellent football team. We knew going in that it was going to be hard to defend them.
“But I think overall we played pretty well and we can get better. I think this is going to vault us into becoming a better football team.”
Millard West (7-0) lost a fumble on its next play after Francl’s score on its 23-yard line, but that turned into the first of several missed opportunities for the Islanders (6-1). They fumbled it back on the 16.
The Wildcats got onto the scoreboard with 4:22 left in the half on a 10-yard run by Ethan Valencia. They missed the PAT.
It was the passing game that led Millard West to the win in the second half. Tristan Gomes finished 10 for 14 for 217 yards with two touchdowns, both to Kaedyn Odermann.
The first was a diving catch for a 6-yard score with 1:31 left in the third. Valencia ran in the 2-point conversion to make it 14-7.
That touchdown was set up by a 46-yard reception by Dalys Beanum, who had six catches for 136 yards.
An insurance score with 4:58 left was more than enough for the Millard West defense. On fourth-and-6 from the Islanders’ 38-yard line, Gomes connected with Odermann.
“We saw some things matchup-wise that we liked, and we’d hit it earlier in the game,” Peterson said. “Everyone thinks we’re just running the ball. We can throw it, and there was a time we thought we could take a shot there.”
Millard West held the Islanders to 45 yards rushing on 31 carries after Francl’s score. Carson Cahoy was 25 for 42 passing for 268 yards.
Tomlin said Millard West’s defense is one of the fastest the Islanders have faced in recent years.
“They have some D-linemen that can really run and linebackers and safeties,” he said. “Offensive line-wise, we can only build off this. We’ve seen the speed that a top-level Class A team has. We know that. We’re one of the top teams as well, and we have to play up to that speed.”
Millard West (7-0)........0 6 8 6—20
At Grand Island (6-1)...7 0 0 0— 7
GI: Caleb Francl 74 run (Braxton Mendez kick)
MW: Ethan Valencia 10 run (kick failed)
MW: Kaedyn Odermann 6 pass from Tristan Gomes (Valencia run)
MW: Odermann 38 pass from Gomes (kick failed)
Rushing: MW, Valencia 11-54, Gomes 12-47, Beanum 1-10, Sullivan 8-8. GI, Francl 18-104, McKinnis 3-(minus 2), Aken 4-(minus 2), Cahoy 10-(minus 8).
Passing: MW, Gomes 10-14-0 217. GI, Cahoy 25-42-0 262, TEAM 0-1-0 0.
Receiving: MW, Beanum 6-136, Odermann 4-81. GI, Douglass 12-139, M. Jurgensmier 3-38, Leiting 3-32, Sextro 2-23, Keolavone 2-18, Francl 2-10, McKinnis 1-2.