It’s playoff time for Nebraska high school football. It was a great regular season filled with teams and players having breakout seasons. I’ll be heading to Gretna on Friday to see the No. 5 seed Dragons take on the No. 12 seed Lincoln East Spartans. Both programs are led by terrific quarterbacks. Lincoln East’s Noah Walters and Gretna’s Zane Flores are the top two quarterbacks in the state.
Walters (6-0, 195) has put on a weekly show leading the Spartans air-raid attack. He threw four or more touchdowns in a game several times this season. The game against Lincoln Southeast was a breakout game against a defense that features a handful of Division I prospects. The senior has a terrific game, going 23-for-29 with 430 yards and five touchdown passes. It’s plays like this one that stand out to me about what makes Walters a dangerous passer. He’s got great pocket awareness and footwork.
Walters still hasn’t seen his recruitment take off. He lacks prototypical size but his arm strength and accuracy are there. As seen in that clip, he shows good poise under pressure as well. The 2022 prospect may end up with a walk-on offer from the Huskers. There should be more Group of Five and FCS teams in on him.
On the other sideline Friday night will be junior quarterback Flores. He’s got 1,964 yards through the air with 20 touchdowns and just three interceptions. Five of the nine games for the Dragons have been blowouts this season. Flores’ (6-3, 190) numbers would be higher if he played in more full games in 2021. The signal-caller has a big, accurate arm. You can see that on full display in this clip where he drops the ball in for a touchdown.
Flores is still in search of his first Power Five offer. There are several schools keeping tabs on him. Nebraska, Iowa State, Northwestern and Kansas State have all shown interest. The knock on his game has been mobility. He’s not the fastest quarterback but does move well enough to evade the rush. Flores also had some tough camp performances over the summer which hurt his stock. When you watch him play in games you see a quarterback that can play at the college level.
I’ve seen both teams play this season. They were both impressive. Gretna started off the game against Bellevue East on fire with a 56-0 lead at halftime. Flores had a handful of touchdowns in the first half to a variety of targets. Since I last saw Gretna play, it has kept things rolling only losing one game all season. It was a close loss to Elkhorn South 28-20. The Dragons enter the playoffs at 8-1.
Gretna coach Mike Kayl knows things will need to break right for the Dragons this postseason.
“A combination of a few things will help us to be successful in the postseason,” Kayl said. “We are going to have to play consistent high-level football. That mean executing the details and game plan. Everyone is trying to extend their season, so you’re going to get nothing but their best. We’re going to have to create some breaks. Whether it is winning the turnover battle or special teams and field position, it should help our offense and defense out. We need to play with a lot of confidence and take it game by game.”
Lincoln East has been an offensive machine for most of this season. Walters has averaged 327 passing yards a game and tossed 39 touchdowns this season. The single-season Class A passing record is within reach for Walters this week. The team stumbled down the stretch of the season losing two out of three games. Bouncing back from last week’s 52-7 loss to Creighton Prep will be tough to get the playoffs started. Lincoln East coach John Gingery gave me some keys to his team playing well this postseason.
“For us it would be no turnovers and ball control,” Gingery said. “We also need to limit big plays on defense.”
If the weather holds up. this is a game where I’d expect a lot of points. In a shootout, which team can avoid the big mistake could be key. One x-factor for the games is 2023 Lincoln East Husker target Malachi Coleman. The athlete stars on both sides of the ball for the Spartans. However, he’s had a big year on defense racking up 43 total tackles and five sacks in 2021. If Coleman can get pressure on Flores it would boost the Spartans chances of pulling the upset.
The winner of this matchup with play the winner of the Elkhorn South and Kearney on Friday Nov. 5.
Greg is the Recruiting Analyst for Hail Varsity and has covered Husker athletics since 2013. He has always had a passion for sports while growing up in the Chicago area. As he got older and had to hang up his cleats and sneakers, he realized his passion for sports went beyond just watching and attending games. He has covered many events from the Rose Bowl to championship boxing matches. If he’s not talking sports, he’s hovering over his grill. He is married to an amazing woman, Kim, and they have a dog that barks when Greg yells at the TV during games.