Photo Credit: Jacob Padilla

Furious Fourth-Quarter Rally Powers Creighton Prep Past Millard West

October 02, 2020

“We will fight ’til the fight is won.”

That’s the final line of Omaha Creighton Prep’s fight song, and the Junior Jays lived by that mantra at Phelps Field on Friday night. After seeing a late rally fall short last week at Lincoln Southeast, Creighton Prep again dug itself a big hole against Millard West.

However, this time the Junior Jays (2-2) came all the way back, scoring four straight touchdowns in the final 9:13 of game time to pull off a 29-26 come-from-behind win over the Wildcats (1-3).

“If we wouldn’t start so darn slow, and we have to figure that out, but I give our kids so much stinking credit,” Creighton Prep coach Tim Johnk said. “They’re so resilient, they never quit, there’s never any complaining or poking fingers or anything on the sideline, even when we were down 26-0, and that’s a sign of a really good football team. We’ve just got to iron a few things out. Our playmakers came up big tonight — Bullock and Rollins — and we ran the ball better tonight, which I challenged our guys all week that we needed to run the football better, and we did that. I couldn’t be prouder of our guys.”

Late in the third quarter, Millard West senior linebacker Brecken Wallace picked off Prep’s senior quarterback, Sam Meysenburg, and junior running back Chase Hultman took an option pitch and sprinted up the sideline for the 39-yard touchdown run on the next play to put the Wildcats up 26-0 with 16 seconds to go in the period.

After three runs left Prep with a fourth and 1 at the Prep 45-yard line, the Junior Jays went for it and Meysenburg got just enough on the quarterback sneak to move the chains. A 4-yard completion, a 28-yard and an 11-yard pass put the Junior Jays in striking distance, and junior tailback Jack Stessman ripped through the defense for a 28-yard touchdown to get Prep on the board with 9:13 to go.

The Junior Jay defense forced a three-and-out, but Prep nearly gave the ball right back. Meysenburg threw three straight incompletions and on the third, an attempted screen pass, he took a big hit and was slow to get up, eventually making his way to the sideline in some pain. Sophomore Parker Leise replaced Meysenburg and Prep still went for as Leise found his most dependable playmaker, senior wideout Alex Bullock, for a 16-yard gain to move the chains.

“Huge fourth and 10 — it might be the play of the game,” Johnk said. “It just might be the play of the game because at that point if we don’t get that, we’re in deep trouble.”

On the next play, running back Max Sanders powered through the Millard West defense for a 31-yard score. Meysenburg found Bullock again for the two-point conversion to make it 26-15 with 7:11 remaining.

A hold and a tackle for loss backed the Wildcats up deep into their own territory, and a bad connection on the snap combined with good defensive pressure led to a short punt, giving the Juniors Jays the ball at the Millard West 37-yard line. Meysenburg returned to the game and after a false start, he found Bullock for a 28-yard gain. An incomplete pass and a 1-yard run set up a third and 9 from the 13 yard line, but Meysenburg wanted more than the first down. He took a shot at the end zone and found future Husker AJ Rollins at the goal line for what was ruled a touchdown catch.

The officials determined Rollins had secured possession in the end zone before the Wildcat defender knocked it up and out of his hands. The two-point conversion failed, making the score 26-21 with 4:08 to go.

After a big kick return, and a short run on first down, senior running back Nathan Pederson broke off a 26-yard run to flip the field and give the Wildcats a good chance to run down the clock with just under three-and-a-half minutes remaining. Pederson carried it two more times, picking up 4 yards, then 3. Then disaster struck.

Millard West ran an option play and sophomore quarterback Brady Brau, in for injured starter Jacob Jones, tried to pitch it back to Pederson. The timing was off, however, and the ball hit the turf. Junior defensive end Ryan Kearney picked up the ball and, with an entourage around him, ran it back 60 or so yards for the go-ahead touchdown. Sanders punched in the two-point conversion to make it 29-26 Prep with two minutes remaining.

After a touchback, Millard West tried to run the ball up the middle with Pederson and burned about 35 seconds to gain just 1 yard. On second down, Brau dropped back to pass but Bullock picked him off at the 24-yard line with 79 ticks to go.

Two delay of game penalties sandwiched three Creighton Prep runs and gave the Junior Jays a fourth and 10. Prep went for it, and Meysenburg found — who else? — Bullock for a 20-yard reception to move the chains and allow the Junior Jays to run out the clock.

After starting the day 6-for-18 for 57 yards and two interceptions then briefly leaving the game, Prep’s senior quarterback Meysenburg completed three of his last four passes for 61 yards and a touchdown to lift the Junior Jays to victory on senior night.

“He’s resilient,” Johnk said. “He did it last week at Southeast; we just came up short there. We didn’t have enough time on the clock there. We had enough time on the clock here and our defense played lights out. Our defense was fantastic. We put them in some tough situations tonight, but our defense was fantastic.”

Meysenburg’s go-to target down the stretch, Bullock, finished with six receptions for 88 yards, one two-point conversion, one carry for 6 yards and an interception, with most of that production coming in the fourth quarter to key the comeback.

“I keep telling everybody that he is a guy that everybody has missed the boat on,” Johnk said. “He is as competitive as they come. He’s talented, he’s a tremendous kid. I’m telling you what, it couldn’t happen to a better kid.”

Rollins caught three of the five passes that came his way for 42 yards and a touchdown. Stessman led the rushing attack with 18 carries for 94 yards and a score while Sanders chipped in 47 yards and a touchdown on seven carries.

Defensively, the Junior Jays limited the Millard West halfback running game most of the night. Pederson and Hultman combined for 115 yards on 30 carries, but 65 of those yards came on two runs. They averaged 18 yards per carry on their other 28 touches.

However, Millard West gashed Creighton Prep with the quarterback run game. Jacob Jones carried the ball 17 times for 121 yards and a touchdown. Unfortunately, he went down hard on a run early in the third quarter and had to be helped to the sideline. He didn’t return to the game. Brau stepped in for him and finished off the drive with a 20-yard quarterback keeper to put the Wildcats up 19-0. However, Brau’s last six runs combined for minus-5 yards as the Prep defense made things difficult for the young signal-caller. Millard West’s two quarterbacks combined to go 0-for-11 through the air with a pick.

The first points of the game came with less than two minutes to go until halftime. A terrific punt and a first-down sack backed the Junior Jays up inside their own 1-yard line, and Millard West tackled Sanders in the end zone for a safety. Kaden Williams returned the safety punt 65 or 70 yards down to the 4-yard line, setting up a short touchdown run by Jones, and Will Ekborg picked off a deflected pass from Meysenburg that allowed the Wildcats to tack on a field goal before halftime, giving Millard West a 12-0 lead at the break. It wasn’t enough, however.

“It’s huge, especially all the crazy stuff going on — quarantine, corona, all that,” Bullock said about the win. “I think we fought hard and it’s just a great momentum boost. I think we’re playing better and better each week and that’s a great sign heading later into the year.”

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