Despite showing plenty of rust after playing just one game in the first three weeks of the season, Bellevue West had too much firepower for Millard South to keep up with on Friday night as the Thunderbirds handed the Patriots their first loss of the season, 49-29.
Here are five thoughts from the showdown between two of Class A’s best at Buell Stadium.
Breakout Game for Bellevue West’s Big Back
Jaylin Bradley, Jay Ducker… LJ Richardson? The 6-foot-1, 220-pound back only carried the ball five times in Bellevue West’s 55-0 rout of Bellevue East in week two, but he made the most of his touches with 105 yards and two scores.
This week, he got a chance to be the workhorse back for the Thunderbirds and boy did he deliver. Richardson unofficially finished with 25 carries for 212 yards, four receptions for 94 yards and three total touchdowns.
“I love having a 215-pound back,” Bellevue West coach Michael Huffman said after the game. “I’ve never had one before.”
Richardson is a punishing back who broke several tackles throughout the night. Of his 29 touches, nine were explosive plays including a 75-yard touchdown where Richardson took a forward pitch for a reception near the line of scrimmage and did the rest on his own (edit: Bellevue West recorded this as a run play instead of a reception in their box score).
Richardson only had 18 carries as a sophomore last year while playing behind Ducker, but he showed on Friday that he’s ready to make a name for himself in 2020.
Hard-Working Tate Hinrichs
I’ve covered Millard South three weeks in a row now, and it feels like I’ve heard the name “Tate Hinrichs” half a hundred times during those three games. The 6-foot-2, 205-pound senior linebacker has been all over the field making plays all season long.
Millard South credited Hinrichs with a ridiculous 25 tackles (13 solo) in Millard South’s 17-14 win at Elkhorn South in week two and Hinrichs followed that up with 11 more (five solo) in the Patriots’ week two 31-12 win against rival Millard West.
I don’t know how many tackles Hinrichs finished with against the Thunderbirds, but I’m guessing it was probably double figures again including a pair of sacks and a stop on fourth down.
Keagan Johnson Can Do it All
Huffman does a great job of showcasing his best players in a variety of ways, and after biding his time behind some other great players, senior wideout Keagan Johnson has stepped into that role this year.
Johnson matched Richardson with three total touchdowns and flirted with 200 yards from scrimmage against the Patriots. The Iowa commit caught eight passes for 132 yards and two touchdowns and added another 81 yards and a score on seven carries.
Johnson also played a handful of snaps as a wildcat quarterback, finding a receiver on a two-point conversion in the second quarter and ripping off a 46-yard touchdown run in the third quarter. He also had receiving touchdowns of 43 and 35 yards, proving he can be a deep threat in addition to making plays at the line of scrimmage off the quick passing game.
The Johnson family has produced some outstanding receivers, from dad Clester (Nebraska) to oldest brother CJ (Wyoming) to middle child Cade (South Dakota State), and Keagan’s definitely got next.
Big Play or Bust
Bellevue West had Millard South outnumbered when it comes to offensive firepower, but that will be the case for pretty much anyone the Thunderbirds will face this season. Millard South ripped off some big plays against what should end up being a pretty salty defense once the Thunderbirds settle in.
Air Force commit TJ Urban had one terrific drive in particular where he caught a pass on a double reverse from wideout Gage Stenger and picked up 35 yards, then picked up 17 yards on a carry two plays later to put the Patriots in scoring range. In total, Urban rushed for 118 yards and had six explosive runs including a 29-yard touchdown and a 26-yard gain.
Urban isn’t the only Patriot capable of making big plays, however. Urban hit Stenger for a 25-yard touchdown pass, and he found Antrell Taylor for a 31-yard catch-and-run. Back-up running back Christian Nash had an 18-yard touchdown run, and third-stringer Reggie Harris ripped off an 84-yard touchdown run late in the game.
Millard South has to do a better job of sustaining drives beyond the big plays, however. Bellevue West stopped the Patriots within 2 yards of the line of scrimmage on nearly half of their carries.
Plenty of Playmakers in Purple
I’ve already highlighted Richardson and Johnson, but plenty of other Thunderbirds made an impact as well.
Micah Riley and Kaden Helms, the pair of 2022 tight ends Nebraska has offered, had eight receptions for 93 yards between them including a 28-yard touchdown for Riley. Freshman Dae’vonn Hall chipped in a pair of catches for 14 yards (he’s one you’re going to want to keep your eye on over the next few years).
For the second straight year, a transfer has won the starting quarterback job as Bellevue East transfer Luke Johannsen replaced the graduated Nate Glantz. Johannsen had an efficient debut in week two against his former school, completing 10 of his 14 passes for 186 yards and three touchdowns. However, against the Patriots, he surpassed that yardage total by halftime, finishing 23-of-35 for 333 yards and four touchdowns (edit: this includes the Rchardson play Bellevue West marked as a run). Johannsen isn’t as much of a threat with his legs as Glantz was in 2019, but he looks more than capable of getting the ball to his many playmakers on time and on target.
On the other side of the ball, the Thunderbirds have some dynamic playmakers as well. Defensive back CJ Lilienkamp hauled in an interception in the end zone off a deflection late in the game. Tackling machine Jack McDonnell was all over the field, and linebacker Kier Kier made some plays in the backfield as well. Linebacker-turned-defensive end Ryan Rogers gives Bellevue West some athleticism off the edge and he even beat everyone down the field to deliver a big hit on kickoff coverage in the second half.
Jacob is in his third year with Hail Varsity covering Husker athletics. He has also written extensively for SB Nation’s Bright Side of the Sun and The Creightonian. His love of basketball can best be described as an obsession and if you need to find him, he’s probably in a gym somewhere watching, coaching or playing hoops.