The top two teams in Class A squared off at Phelps Field on Friday night as No.1 Omaha Westside hosted No. 2 Bellevue West.
The Thunderbirds led 21-14 at halftime, but the Warriors turned the tables with three touchdowns in less than three minutes to start the second half then maintained the lead the rest of the way en route to a 56-35 victory.
Here are five thoughts on the game.
Roll ‘Side Run Game
The Warriors lit up the scoreboard, and they did much of that work on the ground with three different players running for more than 90 yards. Unofficially, Westside put up 336 yards and five touchdowns on 50 carries before taking a couple of knees to close out the game.
Junior running back Jahmez Ross came into the season banged up and got off to a slow start with just 48 yards on 20 carries in the first two weeks, but he looked healthy on Friday with 23 carries for 110 yards and a touchdown, and he chipped in a couple of catches for 35 yards. Ross got stronger as the game went on; after one double-digit gain in the first half, he had four such carries in the second half.
Senior Curt Cubrich nearly hit triple digits himself with eight carries for 98 yards. That includes a 74-yard touchdown that came on a third-and-2 play when Cubrich picked his way through traffic then won a foot race with the Bellevue West secondary to the end zone.
The lead back on Friday proved to be Westside’s quarterback, however, as Anthony Rezac ran the ball 18 times for 125 yards and three touchdowns. He had runs of 23, 20 and 54, with the longest one putting six on the board after Bellevue West had pulled within one score midway through the fourth quarter.
I’ve already mentioned the 73-yard Cubrich touchdown and the 54-yard Rezac touchdown, but those were only two of six total plays of 45-plus yards in the game — three by each team.
The third long play for Westside came on special teams as sophomore Keynan Cotton showed off some fancy footwork and breakaway speed on an 82-yard punt return touchdown in the third quarter to cap the 21-0 Westside run. Cotton also spent all night on defense matching up with Bellevue West’s dynamic wide receiver corps. On offense, he caught two passes for 20 yards and took a reverse for a 3-yard rushing touchdown.
For the Thunderbirds, two wideouts topped 140 yards on Friday night. After a relatively quiet start to the season, Kyrell Jordan exploded for seven catches for 167 yards and two touchdowns. That included a 69-yard touchdown reception in the first half and a 45-yard gain in the second half that saw him cut back all the way across the field to put the Thunderbirds in scoring range, then three plays later he caught an 11-yard touchdown to finish off the drive.
Millard North transfer Isaiah McMorris is still adjusting to the Bellevue West program, but his talent is undeniable. He also caught seven passes for 141 yards including a 72-yard gain that saw him shake off a tackle attempt immediately after the catch then take it all the way down to the 5 to set up a Bellevue West rushing touchdown three plays later. McMorris also mossed a defender for a touchdown, drawing a defensive pass interference call but coming down with the ball anyway in the fourth quarter to bring Bellevue West within one score of the Warriors once again.
Brutal Blows for Both Teams
The game featured two of the best safeties in the state in Westside junior Caleb Benning and Bellevue West senior Donnovan Whitfield, but neither player made it out of the first quarter.
First, Whitfield — who made some massive plays throughout Bellevue West’s 3-0 start to the season — picked off Rezac (the Westside quarterback’s only incompletion of the first half) and returned the ball inside the 10. It took a horse-collar tackle to get him to the turf, and he suffered an injury in the process that knocked him out for the rest of the game.
Benning, who left Westside’s week one win against Omaha Creighton Prep with a minor injury but returned to play on just one side of the ball in week two’s win at Grand Island, was full-go against the T-Birds, playing both safety and wide receiver once again. He caught a pass for 13 yards late in the first quarter, but was slow to get up afterward following the tackle. Like Whitfield, he suffered an injury to the shoulder area and did not return to the game.
Whitfield and Benning are two dynamic players, and I — like many others — am hoping for a speedy recover for both.
Friday’s star-studded showdown drew a large crowd, and among the spectators were Nebraska assistant coaches Mickey Joseph and Barrett Ruud. The Huskers have offers out to Benning and sophomore linebacker Christian Jones as well as Bellevue West quarterback Danny Kaelin and wide receiver Dae’vonn Hall, both juniors.
Unfortunately, the coaches only got a brief look at Benning, but the other three made it through the whole game.
Jones made a handful of splash plays. Defensively, he dove on a loose ball after teammate Ty Keifer punched it free to halt a Bellevue West drive that was nearing the red zone during the first quarter. On offense, he caught three passes for 17 yards including a 4-yard touchdown on a third-down play early in the fourth quarter.
Kaelin had an up-and-down game while playing on a gusty night without the help of an effective run game. He threw for a career-high 394 yards and three touchdowns. He made a handful of “wow” throws throughout the game, perfectly placing the ball deep downfield to one of his dynamic pass-catchers. However, he completed just over 54% of his passes and threw two bad interceptions, the first of which came when he decided to throw on fourth down instead of punting the ball away.
Finally, Hall had a relatively quiet day with five catches for 35 yards. However, he also spent most of the game playing both ways as the Bellevue West coaching staff decided last week to insert him on defense at corner, and he grappled with some talented athletes out wide for the Warriors. Hall at corner gives Bellevue West a different look on defense, and the T-Birds have enough depth on offense that they don’t have to rely heavily on him week in and week out.
Plenty to Work On
Both teams will likely head into week four thinking they have plenty of things to clean up.
All three interceptions were pretty bad throws, especially considering the talent both quarterbacks possess (Teddy Rezac recorded both picks for the Warriors, and Kaelin more or less threw both of them right to him).
However, the bigger problem was the penalties. Between the two teams there were 29 flags that resulted in 242 penalty yards — 17 on Westside, 12 on Bellevue West. That doesn’t even include at least four more flags that were declined or offset. There were a bunch of false starts, illegal substitutions or illegal shifts. There was also a really bad running into the kicker penalty that extended a drive and a couple of late hits. Pass interference calls will happen, but a lot of the other penalties are things that the teams can and should clean up moving forward.
If these teams face off again come the postseason, I’m expecting to see a much cleaner game.
Jacob Padilla has been writing for Hail Varsity since 2015. He covers football, volleyball men’s basketball and prep sports. He also co-hosts the Nebraska Preps Postgame and Nebraska Shootaround podcasts for the Hurrdat Media and Hail Varsity podcast networks. 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.