OMAHA -- If third-ranked Millard South’s 14-13 home win over No. 2 and previously unbeaten Omaha Westside on Thursday night in front of an estimated 3,000 fans at Buell Stadium is any indication of what might be in store for the Class A playoffs, get ready for quite a ride in the postseason.
The Patriots (8-1) scored their game-winning points on a safety with 7:37 left in the game when sophomore linebacker Tate Hinrichs blitzed and made an ankle tackle on Westside sophomore quarterback Cole Payton as he was rolling to the left in the end zone.
Millard South’s defense rose to the occasion at the other end of the field with 1:15 remaining to seal the victory. Senior lineman Jayden Merriman stripped the ball away from a Westside ballcarrier and another sophomore, Brynden Anderson, recovered at the Patriots 5-yard line.
“Last week, our offense stepped up when we needed it and this week it was our defense,” said Millard South coach Andy Means, whose team rushed for 316 yards — 189 from sophomore quarterback T.J. Urban and 136 by junior running back Isaiah Harris. Harris broke off a 60-yard scoring run in the second quarter for Millard South’s only touchdown.
“Until we start stepping up on both sides of the ball, we won’t be a good playoff team.”
Clutch defensive play down the stretch of a close game won’t be an issue for the Patriots. After Millard South punter Joe Folda pinned Westside on the 1-yard line, the Warriors punched the ball out to the 8 before Hinrichs’ tackle in the end zone.
“We had a blitz called and our (defensive) line opened it up beautifully. I got right in there,” Hinrichs said. “He (Payton) was getting away there at the end so I had to dive for his legs.”
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On the game-saving fumble and recovery, “we all smacked him (the running back) as hard as we could, forced it (the ball) out and we got it back,” Hinrichs said.
The Westside defense stiffened when they needed to most of the game, limiting the Patriots to a pair of Cole Lammel 30-yard field goals when they penetrated the red zone.
The Warriors (8-1) got the ball back with a chance to win it when Jake Holmstrom sacked Urban for a 14-yard loss on fourth down, giving Westside the ball at its own 44 with 3:05 left.
An 11-yard pass from Payton to Joseph Stegman and a 33-yard run by sophomore standout running back Avante Dickerson put Westside in position to win the game. Dickerson, who received a scholarship offer from Iowa State earlier this week, had 86 yards on 14 carries.
The left-handed Payton finished 15 of 22 passing for 153 yards and a pair of TDs — an 11-yarder to Grant Tagge on the opening drive of the game and a 2-yarder to Dylan Packett on the first play of the fourth quarter which put Westside up 13-12.
“We made two critical mistakes down the stretch — not picking up that blitz and then the fumble down deep late,” Westside coach Brett Froendt said. “Millard South’s defense fought, they held our offense down.
“We fought hard and we’re disappointed, but maybe this is the kick in the butt we need heading into the playoffs.”