No. 4 Bellevue West came up big when they needed to against No. 1 seed Millard West in a 37-30 win at Buell Stadium Friday. The Thunderbirds advance to the Class A state title game against Omaha Westside at Memorial Stadium Nov. 26.
After each team punted twice to open the game, Millard West fumbled on a hit by defensive back Devin Mills that was recovered by linebacker Jack McDonnell at the Wildcat 20-yard line.
On the next play, Bellevue West running back Jay Ducker scored for a 7-0 lead with 4:35 left in the first quarter.
Ducker added a milestone TD later in the first half. The senior scored from 13-yards out with 10:12 left in the first half to break the 11-man career touchdown record with his 106th TD.
Kicker Cruz Jurado added a two-point conversion on a rush attempt for a 15-0 lead.
The T-birds surrendered their first points of the playoffs on a one-yard rushing TD by Millard West quarterback Tristan Gomes for a 15-7 scored with 5:33 left in the first half.
Bellevue West started to move the sticks on the ensuing drive but a pair of self-inflicted wounds gave Millard West the ball back with 1:20 left in the half. The Wildcats capitalized on the final first half possession with a 27-yard field goal for a 15-10 BW lead at halftime.
Head coach Michael Huffman did not mince words about what he saw from his team in that first half.
“It was the worst half of football we have played offensively in three years,” Huffman said. “We left some out there.”
Just 14 seconds into the second half, Ducker took the ball through the gut for an 80-yard touchdown to extend the Bellevue West lead to 22-10.
The Wildcats responded on the ensuing possession with a drive that ended in a three-yard rushing touchdown by Gomes with 8:42 left in the third quarter for a 22-16 score after a missed PAT.
On the next possession, Bellevue West faced a fourth-and-2 at its own 36-yard line and were able to get three yards on the play to keep the drive alive, but the Wildcats stopped the Thunderbirds, the next three plays, to force a punt.
The Wildcats took momentum by getting back-to-back first downs and then a 30-yard passing touchdown from Gomes to wide receiver Dalys Beanum with 3:53 left in the third quarter put Millard West ahead 23-22. It’s the first time Bellevue West has trailed all season.
But Bellevue West quickly responded to the adversity. Quarterback Nate Glantz found wide receiver Zavier Betts for a 31-yard touchdown to take back a 29-23 lead with 2:05 left in the third quarter.
“In crunch time you think players not plays and we are blessed to have a few of them,” Huffman said.
Millard West drove into Bellevue West territory on the ensuing possession before the Bellevue West defense made a stop on fourth-and-11 at the T-bird 40-yard to take over possession with just under nine minutes left in the game.
Cruz Jurado jumped the receivers route on fourth down to knock the ball away. Coach Huffman has complimented Jurado and his skill set all season as a defensive back.
“I just really like him, he started out his career as just a kicker and the coaches worked with him and he just tries so hard. He’s a technician and he wants to be great.”
Bellevue West used the next drive not only to melt the clock, but take a two-possession lead. After converting two fourth downs on the drive, Glantz capped off the drive with a four-yard touchdown to wide receiver Nate Sullivan Jr. for a 35-23 lead with 1:35 left.
The Wildcats cut the score to one possession on a 32-yard touchdown pass with 30 seconds left.
Bellevue West’s Keagan Johnson recovered the onside kick and then Glantz took a knee to punch the Thunderbirds ticket to the state championship.
Betts finished with nine catches for 104 yards and a touchdown. Keagan Johnson finished with eight catches for 73 yards. Nate Glantz threw for 203 yards and two touchdowns.
Jay Ducker finished with 188 yards on 21 carries and three touchdowns. This puts his career touchdown total at 107.
Bellevue West will take on Omaha Westside in the Class A state championship on Tuesday, November 26th at Memorial Stadium.