Millard West stayed undefeated, but the Wildcats took their sweet time getting started against Kearney.
Nothing changed when they got the lead, then added to it.
After spotting the visiting Bearcats the first two touchdowns, No. 2 Millard West methodically pounded out a 23-13 win Friday night at Buell Stadium to set up next week’s showdown in Grand Island of 6-0 teams.
“We battled some adversity,” Millard West quarterback Tristan Gomes said. “We want to be a great team, so that’s something we’re going have to overcome like we did tonight.
“(Kearney’s) a great team and they came out and they punched in the face and we fought back.”
West coach Kirk Peterson said he’s learning how to make full use of the 40-second play clock, new to high school this year. Millard West had the ball for 25 of the final 33 minutes.
“It’s a game changer because you can dictate pace,” Peterson said.
No. 9 Kearney (4-2) netted 49 yards after it went ahead 13-0 on a 42-yard pass from Colin Murray to Owen Lightle and a 1-yard run by Princeton-bound Miko Maessner that ended a 16-play, 64-yard drive early in the second quarter.
“That’s what it was about, not panicking,” Peterson said. “It wasn’t like they were running up and down the field. We had a bust on the long touchdown pass and we’ve had a few of those. There’s still things to work on.”
Millard West had two 12-play scoring drives, lasting seven minutes and six minutes, to take a 14-13 lead with 3:54 left in the third quarter. In between, it wasted Dane Christensen’s punt block that teammate Kenden Ahl recovered at the Kearney 13 late in the first half.
“We did everything we wanted to in the first half, and then we couldn’t get a first down to keep our defense off the field in the second half. And that’s a credit to Millard West,” Kearney coach Brandon Cool said. “We tried some things. We had some open opportunities and we just didn’t get it done in the second half.”
Gomes ran for 109 yards on 22 carries and the touchdown that led to the Wildcats’ first lead. Ethan Valencia had 98 yards and an 8-yard touchdown on 17 attempts and Dan Sullivan had 41 yards on 11 rushes. On his only catch, Dalys Beanum had opened the Wildcats’ scoring on a 19-yard pass to the back of the end zone from Gomes.
Sophomore kicker Jackson Neumann made the extra point to put the Wildcats up 14-13 and then tacked on a 34-yard field goal for a 17-13 edge with three seconds left in the third quarter.
Kearney picked up one first down in its next two possessions before Valencia’s touchdown with 4:42 left.
“Defense, that’s our calling card. It always has been,” Peterson said. “I know everyone talks about offense, but our defense has been pretty solid all year. It keeps carrying us. That’s how you win games.”
Kearney (4-2)...........6 7 0 0—13
Millard West (5-0).....0 7 10 6—23
K: Owen Lightle 43 pass from Colin Murray (PAT failed)
K: Miko Maessner 1 run (James Dakan kick)
MW: Dalys Beanum 19 pass from Tristan Gomes (Caden Tubaugh kick)
MW: Gomes 1 run (Jackson Neumann kick)
MW: FG Neumann 34
MW: Ethan Valencia 8 run (kick failed)
Rushing: K, Maessner 19-80, Alex Kemp 2-13, Murray 6-0, team 1-minus 1. MW, Gomes 22-109, Valencia 17-98, Dan Sullivan 11-41, Caden Becker 1-minus 4, team 3-minus 6.
Passing: K, Murray 4-15-1 83. MW, Gomes 2-5-0 34.
Receiving: K, Lightle 1-43, Maessner 1-24, Jackson Miller 1-11, Kaden Miller 1-5. MW, Beanum 1-19, Dustin Hatch 1-15.