Omaha Westside used a big-play offense and a playmaking, bend-but-don’t break defense to finish off a perfect regular season with 49-6 win on Friday against St. Thomas Aquinas, visiting Phelps Field from Overland Park, Kansas.
“That was definitely our goal, just to finish the season undefeated,” Nebraska commit and Westside senior Koby Bretz said. “One game at a time, we finished our job.”
The Saints are one of the top teams in Kansas’ second-largest class, coming into Friday’s game at 4-1, but Westside dominated from start to finish on both sides of the ball. The Warriors forced a punt on the first drive of the game, then three plays later Westside quarterback Cole Payton left the Aquinas defense in his dust on a 59-yard touchdown run, one of three 50-plus-yard touchdown runs for the Warriors.
“They’re obviously a good football team and they were down a couple guys,” Westside coach Brett Froendt said. “We knew they’d go with the flow pretty hard so we had a couple quarterback counters and they worked well, and Cole made it happen. I’m really proud of the defense especially. They stuck with the game plan, they played really hard up front and they’re a tough team to defend up front. I’m really happy with the physicality of the team.”
Payton, a North Dakota Stat commit, totaled 187 yards and four touchdowns to lead the way for the Warriors. He carried the ball four times for 119 yards and three scores and completed five of his 10 passes for 68 yards and another touchdown.
After the game, Westside’s top lineman, Northern Illinois commit Cade Haberman, crashed Payton’s post-game interview with a message.
"This is the best quarterback in the state,” Haberman said. “It's not close. It's not a Class B player, Class C player. Right here, No. 1, CP9, best quarterback in the state."
Westside finished off its season sweep of Nebraska competition last week with a 52-3 win against Norfolk. Before the season, the Warriors were scheduled to play Omaha Bryan this week, but with OPS schools not playing it left an opening in the schedule. Like a handful of other Nebraska teams this season, Westside filled that void with a team from another state.
“Definitely another team coming from out of state fueled our fire this week,” Bretz said. “We had that mentality that no one is going to come in and disrespect us in our house.”
Payton’s first touchdown put the Warriors up 7-0 and the Warriors found the end zone again less than two minutes later. Westside forced a run-heavy Aquinas team into a passing situation on third and 13 and junior linebacker Tommy Connelly came free off the edge for a sack, knocking the ball out in the process. The Warriors recovered it and three plays later Payton found junior Grant Guyett on a quick slant from 8 yards out for the touchdown to make it 14-0.
After three straight empty possessions, Payton hit the Aquinas defense with another quarterback counter, this time scoring from 60 yards out. Westside took a 21-0 lead into the second quarter, and that score held steady through halftime.
Bretz opened the second half with a 36-yard kickoff return and got hit late out of bounds, tacking on another 15 yards. The Warriors began their drive inside the Aquinas 40, and after a holding penalty pushed them back Payton found Guyett again deep down the middle for a 37-yard gain. Two plays later, Payton stiff-armed a defender into the turf and walked into the end zone for a 3-yard score.
Less than a minute later, Westside scored again as Connelly forced his second fumble of the game, knocking the ball loose from behind right into the hands of Minnesota commit Avante Dickerson who ran it back 22 yards for the touchdown to make it 35-0.
Aquinas finally managed to get on the board with an 11-play, 73-yard drive ending in a tough 7-yard touchdown run by Tyron “Tank” Young, but junior Jack Wimmer blocked the extra point attempt and on Westside’s next offensive play, junior running back Dominic Rezac ripped off a 58-yard touchdown run to make it 42-6 with three-and-a-half minutes to go in the third quarter.
Aquinas went backwards on its next drive and a personal foul on its ensuing punt set the Warriors up with great field position. Another Aquinas personal foul, a late hit on a run by Rezac, put the Warriors in striking distance early in the fourth quarter and on the next play, junior quarterback Kolby Brown, the son of former Nebraska kicker Kris Brown, hit Bretz over the top with a beautiful throw for a 24-yard touchdown close out the scoring.
Aquinas was strong in the trenches and the Saints had some success running the ball at times, but in addition to the forced fumbles the Westside defense also stuffed the Saints on fourth-and-short twice to snuff out scoring opportunities.
“They’re a good offense,” Froendt said. “We knew they were going to get some first downs. The first time they got a first down one of our coaches said something. I went ‘Hey, it’s going to happen; they’re good.’ But the fact that we stopped them when we had to, we bent a little but when we got down here in the red zone and our end of the field, we held stiff. I’m really proud of the guys because that’s not an easy offense to defend and they’re tough kids. They’re really tough kids.”
Young is a dynamic back who has had a big season for the Saints, but his longest run of the night was just 14 yards and he had to carry the ball 29 times to gain his 149 yards with just six points to show for it.
“To keep Tank in check, because he’s a great back, shifty back, he’s a tough runner, but we kept him in check and I was really proud of the defense for doing that,” Froendt said.
Rezac, a player to watch in the 2022 class, added 87 yards and a touchdown for the Warriors. Bretz caught two passes for 29 yards and a score while Dickerson had three carries for 13 yards on offense in addition to his defensive touchdown.
The regular season is complete in Class A and the Warriors will be one of the top eight seeds when the NSAA reveals the one-through-24 postseason seedings on Saturday, meaning the Warriors will get a much deserved bye before beginning their march back to the state championship game in a couple weeks.
“We’ve played eight straight weeks, so we’ll take the week off,” Froendt said. “We’ve got a plan for it, we already know exactly what we’re going to do every day and keep the kids in a routine. We’re going to get sharper. That’s the plan, get a little rest but get sharper and figure out what we need to do for our first opponent.”
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.