The weather was also horrible for last year’s semifinal round of the high school playoffs, and when it was over, the Bellevue West and Wahoo football teams were left out in the cold when it came to advancing to the championship game.
In wintry conditions at Memorial Stadium on Tuesday, both teams made sure they’ll have warm memories about the 2019 season.
They finished off 13-0 campaigns in convincing fashion, dominating in the state finals like they’ve dominated all season -- Wahoo with a 38-0 victory against previous No. 1 Pierce in the Class C-1 title game in the morning and Bellevue West with a 35-0 shutout of Omaha Westside in the snow and wind later in the evening for the Class A crown.
Bellevue West was 10-2 a year ago and reached the semifinals of the playoffs. The Thunderbirds, however, were favored in every game they played a year ago, and coach Michael Huffman felt like his 2018 team didn’t reach its full potential.
That wasn’t an issue this fall. Bellevue West outscored its opponents 662-65 this season, and answered the call when challenged in the semifinals against No. 2 Millard West. The Wildcats led in the third quarter, but Bellevue West responded to claim a 37-30 win in what turned out to be the unofficial championship game.
“Football reveals character,” said Bellevue West coach Michael Huffman, who also guided the Thunderbirds to the 2016 state title. “There were a lot of expectations. We were preseason No. 1 and we were able to go wire-to-wire, and that says a lot about these kids. One of our goals was to see if we can get into the conversation of the best of all-time.”
The Thunderbirds achieved that objective. The offense is as talented, diverse and star-studded as any in recent memory. The defense was easily the best Bellevue West has had in Huffman’s seven years as head coach.
It’s hard to top Nebraska recruit Zavier Betts leading a receiving corps filled with Division I college prospects, Northern Illinois running back recruit Jay Ducker (214 yards rushing and three touchdowns in the finals) as the leading rusher in Class A, a future college quarterback in Nate Glantz and the Thunderhogs up front headlined by all-state lineman Thomas Ault.
“It’s a blessing having this many weapons,” said Glantz, who transferred from Millard West as a senior. “And we’ve got so many young guys nobody really knows about yet.”
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Junior Keagan Johnson let it be known in the finals that Bellevue West is ready to contend again next year. The wide receiver/safety, who is beginning to get FCS college recruiting interest, broke a 49-yard jet sweep for the game’s first touchdown and a 50-yard reverse for a score to make it 28-0 late in the first half.
Westside right now looks like it will get the nod for preseason Class A favorite in 2020 as the Warriors will build around a trio of juniors in cornerback/running back Avante Dickerson (LSU, Ohio State and Nebraska offers), quarterback Cole Payton and lineman Cade Haberman.
Like Ducker, Wahoo all-state senior running back and Nebraska walk-on commit Trevin Luben ended his high school career in style. Luben went off for 268 yards and five touchdowns in his future college home, while the Warrior defense registered its fifth shutout of the year.
After losing to eventual state champions Norfolk Catholic and Aurora the past two seasons both in the regular season and the semifinals of the playoffs, the Warrior seniors were ready to go out in style with the school’s first football state title and a 13-game winning streak.
“It took us three long years to get this, and it means more because of that,” Wahoo linebacker Kole Bordovsky said. “It’s an amazing feeling right now.”
Two-time Class B state champion Omaha Skutt will take a 26-game winning streak into next season after holding on for a 21-20 win over Scottsbluff Monday night in the most dramatic of the six finals this week.
The SkyHawks were prohibitive preseason favorites to repeat, but were severely challenged twice by Waverly this fall, then by Scottsbluff in the finals.
“We told the kids that we’ve been fortunate enough to be down here quite often the last few years, but you can’t take it for granted because it’s hard to do,” said Skutt coach Matt Turman, who has guided the SkyHawks to five state titles and six state final appearances in the past seven years.
“We told them to enjoy it, go out and give it your all.”
Waverly might be the team to beat next season in Class B with three sophomore starters on the offensive line, led by Trevor Brown and a pair of junior running backs in Evan Canoyer (700 yards this season) and Zane Schawang (1,022 yards).
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