Sixth-ranked Bellevue West trailed Papillion-La Vista South by three points after a first half full of miscues from the Thunderbirds' offense. But the second half was a different story.
The Thunderbird offense scored four touchdowns on five second-half drives to seal a 34-24 win over the Titans Friday night at Foundation Field.
The turnaround started with quarterback Brad Brazeal, who completed 14 of 19 passes.
“I think that was the first time I've seen him rattled this year,” Bellevue West coach Mike Huffman said. “But Brad has been playing varsity football for four years, and I'm proud of the way he responded in the second half.”
On their first possession of the second half, the T-birds cruised down the field with a 13-play, 80-yard drive, capped by a 3-yard pass from Brazeal to Cole Patterson to take a 14-10 lead.
West had a similar drive the next time it got the ball, 14 plays for 88 yards, capped by Brazeal's 3-yard run.
Two Mike Gilbert touchdown runs in the fourth quarter, the first from 3 yards and the second from 17, iced the game for the T-birds.
“We had a few long drives in the second half,” Huffman said. “Usually with a spread offense you expect to have about six plays a drive, but our guys showed they could keep long drives going.”
The Titans made a late rally to score two touchdowns in the last three-plus minutes.
While the Thunderbirds scored only seven points in the first half, they were still optimistic about how they played.
“We were a couple of inches away from scoring a few times in the first half,” Huffman said. “At halftime, I just told them to just believe in each other and keep playing hard.”
Papio South coach Walt Olsen said he was happy with the way his defense played in the first half but noticed a few holes after halftime.
“With the way their quarterback (Brazeal) and receivers (CJ Johnson and Malik Hluchoweckyj) were playing coming in, we were obviously concerned with the pass,“ he said. “We gave ourselves an opportunity in the first half, but they exploited us a bit there in the second half.”
The receiving duo of Johnson and Hluchoweckyj were as good as advertised, with Johnson racking up 147 yards and Hluchoweckyj 131.
Gilbert gave Bellevue West's offense some pop with his physical running throughout the game, totaling 147 yards on 20 carries and the two scores.
Brazeal also scored twice with his legs and finished 22 of 44 in the air for 321 yards.
Drew Klein kept the Titan offense going all night with another sound game from the state's second leading rusher. He carried 28 times for 221 yards and a pair of scores.
Quarterback Gabe Smallwood ran in the other Titan touchdown.
The T-birds were pumped up for this game and wanted to prove themselves against a physical team.
“We were looking forward to playing them because they were a more physical team than we've seen so far,” Huffman said. “Our kids responded well, and I'm happy to get out of here with a win.”
Papillion-La Vista South ............................ 24
Bellevue West .......................................... 34
PLS: Billy Greco 48 field goal
BW: Brad Brazeal 1 run (Chris Hahn kick)
PLS: Drew Klein 4 run (Greco kick)
BW: Cole Patterson 3 pass from Brazeal (Hahn kick)
BW: Brazeal 3 run (Hahn kick)
BW: Mike Gilbert 3 run (PAT blocked)
PLS: Gabe Smallwood 7 run (PAT missed)
BW: Gilbert 17 run (Hahn kick)
PLS: Klein 24 run (Smallwood run)
RUSHING: BW, Mike Gilbert 20-147, Brad Brazeal 10-15, Cole Patterson 5-21, Malik Hluchoweckyj 2-9; PLS, Drew Klein 28-221, Gabe Smallwood 9-33, Luke Sellers 5-17.
PASSING: BW, Brazeal 22-44-2 321; PLS, Smallwood 9-16 123.
RECEIVING: BW, CJ Johnson 7-147, Hluchoweckyj 10-131, Cade Johnson 3-35, Ryan Plambeck 1-5, Patterson 1-3; PLS, Kyle Kasun 4-70, Dylan Donahue 1-11, Josh Manchigiah 2-12, Klein 1-14, Nate Stoner 1-16.