After being tied 14-14 late in the first half against Elkhorn South, Millard West responded by scoring 21 straight points on its way to a 35-14 victory Friday night in the Class A quarterfinals.
Wildcats quarterback Tristan Gomes connected with wide receiver Kaedyn Odermann on a 53-yard touchdown pass with 29 seconds left before the intermission for the go-ahead score. Gomes added scoring runs of 9 yards in the third quarter and 10 yards in the fourth to send No. 2 Millard West (11-0) into the semifinal against No. 1 Bellevue West.
“I told the kids before the game that all four playoff matchups — on paper — were just gut-busters,” Millard West coach Kirk Peterson said. “I told them that you’re not going to shut out anybody and there are going to be close games. We just wanted them to play in the present and not worry about the last play or the next play, but just to stay in the present.
“That’s really what we did.”
The Wildcats got off to a fast start, turning two Elkhorn South turnovers into TDs for a 14-0 lead. A fumble recovery by Millard West’s Dalys Beanum and an interception by Brock Wyman both were turned into points via 1-yard TD runs by Gomes.
However, the Storm (7-4) responded in the second quarter as Eli Hustad broke loose for a 65-yard TD run. Three plays later, Hustad intercepted a pass and returned it 33 yards to set up his own 4-yard TD run as Elkhorn South tied the score at 14-14 with 2:55 left in the second quarter.
“We have an extremely resilient and mentally tough group of players,” Elkhorn South coach Guy Rosenberg said. “We talk a lot about how many games you can win if you just keep playing. Millard West did a great job of getting out on us early, but we fought our way back into it and we were right there.
“Then, we kind of let it slip away a little bit, but that’s just a testament to (Millard West). They did an excellent job of finishing the half and finishing the game.”
Gomes and the Wildcats took control after that. The senior quarterback rushed 32 times for 158 yards and four TDs and completed 4 of 9 passes for 123 yards and another score.
“Tristan is just a great dual-threat kid,” Peterson said. “As well as he ran the ball, he’ll be kicking himself when he sees the film because he missed some things tonight. But for the most part, we’re just happy to be able to make adjustments and play another week this time of the year.”
Ethan Valencia added 120 yards rushing on 16 carries as Millard West finished with 319 yards on the ground. The Wildcats lost two third-quarter fumbles, but Peterson’s defense held Elkhorn South scoreless in the second half.
Outside of Hustad’s 128-yard rushing performance on 14 carries, the Storm struggled offensively against Millard West’s defense.
“I was teasing the guys on our defensive staff that we have been leaning on them all year,” Peterson said. “Then I told them, ‘From this point on, we’re just flat-out laying on you.’ The kids have done a nice job and Chad (Young) and the defensive staff have done a nice job all year long.”
Now, Peterson and the Wildcats can turn their attention to next Friday’s semifinals and a highly anticipated matchup against Bellevue West (11-0).
“You don’t have any control over the bracket and you’ve just got to play who’s in front of you,” Peterson said. “We’re going to have to play one heck of a game next week because the team that we’re playing is pretty fair.
“We’re just happy to have the opportunity. We’ll be ready.”
Elkhorn South (7-4)..... 0 14 0 0—14
Millard West (11-0)...... 14 7 7 7—35
MW: Tristan Gomes 1 run (Jaxson Neumann kick)
MW: Gomes 1 run (Neumann kick)
ES: Eli Hustad 65 run (Brian Cross kick)
ES: Hustad 4 run (Cross kick)
MW: Kaedyn Odermann 53 pass from Gomes (Neumann kick)
MW: Gomes 9 run (Neumann kick)
MW: Gomes 10 run (Neumann kick)
Rushing: ES, Eli Hustad 14-128, Ben Warren 8-33, Blaze Doxzon 7-23, Elliott Brown 6-18. MW, Tristan Gomes 32-158, Ethan Valencia 16-120, Dan Sullivan 2-41.
Passing: ES, Elliott Brown 4-14-1 106. MW, Tristan Gomes 4-9-1 123.
Receiving: ES, Trevor Winterstein 1-36, Ethan Diedrichsen 1-29, Blaze Doxzon 1-25, Eli Hustad 1-16. MW, Kaedyn Odermann 2-84, Dalys Beanum 2-39.