Gretna rolled over a Millard South team missing its top two quarterbacks on Thursday as the Dragons topped the Patriots 49-26 at Buell Stadium.
Here are five thoughts on the game.
Reigning Champs on a Roll
Thursday was Gretna’s 10th straight win dating back to last season. The Dragons are off to a 4-0 start coming off a state championship run last season and don’t look like they’re going to slow down any time soon.
Gretna opened the season by outscoring its first two opponents 100-0, then pulled out a tough 16-13 win over Omaha Creighton Prep in week three.
On Thursday, the Dragons flexed their muscles early with two short-field touchdowns in the first five minutes of the game. They raced out to a 28-0 lead before the Patriots even got on the board then took a 35-6 lead into halftime. The Dragons triggered a running clock a couple of times in the second half before Millard South scored a couple of fourth-quarter touchdowns to make the final score look a bit more respectable.
Greta’s next big test will come in two weeks as the Dragons will host Bellevue West.
Millard South’s starting quarterback, Camden Kozeal, is currently in Bradenton, Florida, competing with the United States U-18 team at the Baseball World Cup. His replacement, Brock Murtaugh, suffered an injury last week that kept him sidelined on Thursday.
The Patriots turned to a pair of juniors to run the offense, but they combined for one completed pass and two turnovers. By the Patriots’ second drive of the second quarter, Coach Ty Wisdom turned to a freshman in Jett Thomalla.
Like the upperclassmen before him, Thomalla got off to a rough start against the stout Gretna defense. However, he eventually settled in and showed some real promise. In two-and-a-half quarters of work, Thomalla attempted 46 passes, completing 25 of them of 259 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.
The 6-foot-2, 180-pound freshman completed just five of his first 15 passes, culminating in a pretty bad interception immediately after a Gretna turnover. However, he brushed off the mistake and led a two-minute drill to get the Patriots in range for a 37-yard field goal from Kansas State commit Simon McClannan as time expired.
Thomalla carried that momentum into the second half as he went 14-for-21 for 163 yards and two touchdowns as he led three scoring drives overall after halftime. During one of the scoring drives, Thomalla moved the chains on a fourth-and-16 with a strike to fellow freshman Amarion Jackson for 16 yards.
Perhaps his most impressive play came in the final minute on another connection with Jackson. On fourth-and-goal from the 10, Thomalla dropped back, pump-faked to his right, evaded a pass-rusher in the pocket then hit Jackson at the 1. A defender was on him as soon as he caught the ball, but Jackson powered forward to break the plane for the touchdown.
For a fifth-string quarterback, Thomalla played a heck of a game, especially considering he entered the game with his team down by four scores while getting little in the way of a complementary running game.
Unlike Millard South, there was no question who would play quarterback for Gretna. Oklahoma State commit Zane Flores has been starting for the Dragons since his freshman year and entered Thursday night completing nearly 80% of his passes this season.
Unfortunately, the wind was a pretty significant factor on Thursday and Flores didn’t get a lot of chances to show off his considerable arm talent down the field. Even so, he had an effective if not prolific night against the Patriots, finishing 15-of-23 for 161 yards and three touchdowns. He completed passes to five different receivers plus his running back.
Flores’ arm is what makes him special, but he’s continued to develop his all-around game as he’s progressed throughout his career. Gretna started to factor his legs into the game plan over the final stretch of his junior season as he carried the ball 35 times for 152 yards and four scores in the last four games.
Gretna didn’t need him to run the ball the first two weeks, but he carried it nine times for 40 yards last week against the Junior Jays. A couple of sacks and a few exchange issues kept his rushing total down on Thursday, but he did have gains of 13, 9 and 6 plus a 6-yard touchdown on the ground.
Flores is certainly a pass-first quarterback, but he can also make defenses pay now if they don’t respect his legs.
Trotter’s Got Hops
Jackson made some some impressive plays, but the most dynamic playmaker on the field for the Patriots was senior Austin Trotter. The 6-foot-2 wideout caught seven passes for 151 yards and a score.
Trotter is a big-play threat who was responsible for two of the four longest gains of the day. The starting guard for the Millard South basketball team showed off his impressive vertical on a 46-yard gain that saw him go up over the top of the defender and high-point the ball. Then later, he caught another deep shot and took it in for a 56-yard touchdown.
Trotter seems to be growing more and more comfortable as the weeks go on and is developing into a real weapon for the Patriots.
Weber the Workhorse
One of the biggest questions facing the Dragons heading into the 2022 season was how they would replace two-way standout Mick Huber. Huber was a workhorse running back who churned out tough yards between the tackles and had great chemistry with Flores in the screen game. He was also the team’s leading tackler by a significant amount.
At least on the offensive side of the ball, Gretna may have its answer in the backfield. The Dragons spread the carries around in the first two weeks with the result of those games never in doubt, but as the competition has ramped up over the last couple of weeks, junior Isaiah Weber has emerged as the team’s workhorse.
The 5-foot-10, 175-pound back might not be as physical between the tackles as Huber was, but he’s elusive and has some terrific speed which Gretna takes advantage of on sweeps and perimeter runs.
After totaling 152 yards on 22 carries and 19 yards on two receptions against Creighton Prep, Weber led the Dragons with 19 carries for 190 yards and two touchdowns plus four catches for 48 yards. He had runs of 57, 35, 30 (a touchdown), 19, 12 (a touchdown) and 11 and receptions of 23 and 19 yards.
Between a back like Weber, a deep receiving corps and a stellar quarterback, Gretna boasts a pretty complete offense.
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.