Millard West coach Kirk Peterson did his best to keep his team from getting too emotional Friday night after the Wildcats' 24-14 win over defending state champion Millard North.
But it wasn't easy.
“We've got a long way to go this season,'' Peterson said. “But I do have to say that it's nice to start 2-0.''
It was the second consecutive loss for the Mustangs, who might have lost something even more. Senior quarterback Clay Fisher suffered a first-quarter shoulder injury and didn't return to the game, played in front of an estimated 7,000 at Buell Stadium.
“We're not sure right now how bad it is,'' Millard North coach Fred Petito said. “Injuries are part of the game, but it's a part of the game I don't like.''
Fisher made his presence felt almost immediately, sprinting 78 yards for a touchdown on the second play from scrimmage. The top-ranked Wildcats tied the game shortly after that, taking advantage of a fumbled punt — one of six fumbles lost by the Mustangs — to score on a 15-yard TD run by quarterback Ross Drwal.
Fisher left the game on the Mustangs' next possession, which also ended in a turnover. The game was then in the hands of sophomore quarterback Ethan Morrison, who had only taken a few previous snaps with the varsity.
“When Fisher went out, it didn't really change anything that we were doing,'' Peterson said. “We were just worried about us.''
Senior place-kicker Danny Sandoz put Millard West ahead to stay later in the first quarter with a 38-yard field goal. The score remained 10-7 heading into what would prove to be a wild second half.
Drwal opened the third quarter by running 60 yards to the Mustangs 20. Four plays later, he scored his second touchdown of the night on a 1-yard keeper.
Millard North closed within 16-14 later in the period as Morrison hit a wide-open Avram Tynes behind the Wildcats secondary for a 39-yard touchdown. Millard West avoided disaster on its next possession in an odd way that started on a fourth-and-5 punt play from its own 36.
The snap sailed over the head of punter Sandoz, who chased it down and got off a 35-yarder from his end zone. But instead of getting the ball at the Millard West 35, a penalty had been called on the Mustangs that allowed the Wildcats to maintain possession.
A helmet had come off one of the Millard North players who was chasing Sandoz, and a new rule states that a player must not become part of the play when that happens. The Wildcats maintained possession and marched to the Mustang 9, but a Sandoz 25-yard field-goal attempt early in the fourth quarter sailed wide.
Millard North turned it back over when wide receiver Taras Kotsan fumbled and linebacker Jake Kistaitis recovered. Taking over at the Mustangs 28, it took Millard West just three plays to get into the end zone.
Running back Victor Beanum ran 11 yards and second-string quarterback Zach Johnson hit wide receiver Skyler Monaghan for a 16-yard gain to the 1. Johnson, who played most of the fourth quarter after Drwal banged up his elbow, took it in and then added the two-point conversion run to make the score 24-14.
Three plays stood out the rest of the way. Millard West had a flea-flicker 57-yard TD pass called back by a penalty, the Mustangs lost their sixth fumble and punter Sandoz — who had another snap sail over his head — boomed a 70-yarder on the run from his own end zone.
“I think our punter might have been our most valuable player tonight,'' Peterson said. “He did a pretty good job for a soccer player.''
Drwal, who passed for 89 yards and rushed for 83, said it felt good to finally beat the Mustangs.
“We've lost to them the past two years,'' he said. “We know we've got a ways to go, but being 2-0 is a good start for us.''
Monaghan caught seven passes for 85 yards for Millard West, which returns to action next Friday night at Omaha Burke. The 0-2 Mustangs face another stiff challenge next Friday night, playing host to Omaha Creighton Prep.
Millard West ............................ 10 0 6 8—24
At Millard North ............................ 7 0 7 0—14
MN: Clay Fisher 78 run (Jack Thompson kick)
MW: Ross Drwal 15 run (Danny Sandoz kick)
MW: FG Sandoz 38
MW: Drwal 1 run (kick failed)
MN: Avram Tynes 39 pass from Ethan Morrison (Thompson kick)
MW: Zach Johnson 1 run (Johnson run)
Rushing: MW, Ross Drwal 14-83, Victor Beanum 14-30, Skyler Monaghan 2-16, Zach Johnson 4-17, Thomas Russell 2-11, Salvatore Guido 1-(minus-1). MN, Clay Fisher 3-95, Jacob Matthew 11-57, Grant DeVries 11-39, Ethan Morrison 17-38, Logan Forsythe 2-16, Tate Moyer 2-2, Avram Tynes 1-9.
Passing: MW Drwal 8-20-0 89; Johnson 2-3-0 20. MN, Morrison 2-4-0 44.
Receiving: MW Monaghan 7-85, Nick Lawson 1-13, Beanum 1-7, Cole Neville 1-4. MN, Tynes 1-39, Taras Kotsan 1-5.