With a pair of rematch wins already in the rear view, Millard South bears down on one major roadblock Friday night.
The third-ranked Patriots, fresh of playoff victories over teams they had already beaten this season, get a crack at avenging one of their two losses when they take on No. 1 Millard North in the state football playoffs.
The teams played a grinder in the rain in late August, with Millard North getting a safety and field goal in the fourth quarter for a 12-10 win. They also squared off in the 2010 state championship game, a 28-20 Mustang victory.
“We said after that game (in the regular season) that we'd see them again,” senior defensive lineman Bryce Sosnowski said. “We knew they were going to be a team we'd have to go through. Now that it's here, we're pretty excited.”
The most intriguing matchup during Friday's showdown may be Sosnowski and a stout Millard South defensive line against the Mustangs' option attack.
In the week one meeting, Millard North was held more than 24 points under its season average. The only Mustang touchdown was set up on a short field following a turnover inside Millard South's 10-yard line.
The only other points Millard North produced offensively — Andy Bayne's game-winning 27 yard field goal — came after a long kickoff return gave the Mustangs the ball in Patriot territory.
“We want to make them earn everything they get,” Means said of his team's defensively philosophy. “What I try to tell the kids is to keep them out of the end zone. If they get yards, who cares? We've got kind of this mindset to fight and claw and battle to keep them out of (the end zone). Keep them to field goals.”
That starts up front. Sosnowski and fellow senior Freeman Coleman have started since they were sophomores — including that championship-game loss to Millard North. Sosnowski is the team’s leader in tackles, and Coleman is third. They have a combined 30 sacks.
“We've been pretty happy with our front four,” Means said.
It was the fuel for a Patriots group that held five playoff teams — including Millard North — to either their lowest or second-lowest point output of the season. During the regular season, they shut out Millard West, which averaged 42 points the rest of the way.
A 17-14 quarterfinal victory over Millard West a week ago followed by a first-round win over Papillion-La Vista — just a week after beating the Monarchs to finish the regular season — has gotten Millard South to this point.
Moving on, though, may require another gear. Millard North quarterback Isaac Aakre and company beat nine playoff teams in the regular season. Of their 11 wins, eight have come by double digits.
“He's a heck of a player,” Sosnowski said of Aakre. “He makes them a different team. We've been watching film and we know what they're capable of. We're ready for it.”
Means said winning the turnover battle, a category the Patriots are plus-10 during the season, and limiting the Mustangs' explosiveness and special teams are keys.
“You've got to try to get turnovers,” Means said. “And we've done a pretty good job with that this season. The other thing is, I think we've got to try as much as we can to try to keep them from getting a big play. You stop them, stop them, stop them and they throw a pass. Or you stop them, stop them and Aakre runs for 70 yards.”
A Millard South win would put Means and the Patriots in their fourth state championship game in five years, and fulfill a goal that Sosnowski said he and his teammates have been talking about since their last trip to Lincoln for the title game.
“It would mean everything for all of us,” Sosnowski said.
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