Papillion-La Vista's defense won't be as maligned following its finest performance in the past 1 1/2 seasons.
The Monarchs held No. 6 Bellevue West to seven points in the second half Friday night for a 31-21 victory. It was their first win over a ranked opponent since beating Lincoln Southwest in the 2011 playoffs.
“This was a huge win, a quality win for us,'' said senior running back Sean Van Briesen, who ran for a game-high 153 yards. “This will turn the season around for us.”
He scored twice for the Monarchs (4-1), on a 22-yard pass from Alec Ditoro in the first half and on a 17-yard run in the fourth quarter that ended the scoring.
Both plays thwarted blitzes by the Thunderbirds, who lost their homecoming game in front of an estimated crowd of 2,500.
“That's all Alec,'' Papillion-La Vista coach Jeff Govier said. “He checks us out of bad situations.”
Bellevue West mustered 82 yards on the ground, but first-year quarterback Brad Brazeal threw touchdown passes of 30, 21 and 7 yards to junior receiver CJ Johnson.
Brazeal was 30 of 47 with one interception for 274 yards. Johnson had 12 catches for 139 yards and Malik Hluchoweckyj 13 catches for 104 yards.
“Our defensive line was great, the way they pressured the quarterback,'' Govier said. “We had to get them in situations where we knew they had to pass. When we got those third-and-longs, our secondary did an excellent job.”
In the second half, a 17-yard grab by Hluchoweckyj late in the game was the longest pass play for the Thunderbirds.
The Monarchs led 21-14 at halftime. Ditoro ran for a 34-yard score in the first quarter, and in the second quarter he threw touchdown passes of 22 yards to Van Briesen and 12 yards to Lucas Hostetler.
“What a great decision-maker he is,'' said Mike Huffman, Bellevue West's new head coach who faced Ditoro for the first time.
Ditoro was 13 of 25 for 122 yards, throwing two interceptions.
Hostetler's touchdown, with 25.4 seconds left in the half, followed Jalen Allison's fumble recovery for the Monarchs at the West 30.
“Their playmakers were making plays and our playmakers were making plays,'' Huffman said. “They just made a few more.
“The second half I actually thought was kind of boring.”
West gained its last tie, 21-21, on Brazeal's shovel pass to Johnson with 3:42 left in the third quarter.
The Thunderbirds chose to squib the ensuing kickoff. With a personal foul penalty at the end of the kick, Papio started its drive at the West 37.
Ditoro scrambled for 26 yards on second down for a first-and-goal at the 2. West stiffened and Gage Romans made a 17-yard field goal for the go-ahead points.
West's next two possessions were a three-and-out and a series of plays that stalled at midfield before the Monarchs' Cameron O'Connor forced Brazeal to fumble. Kyle Emerick returned it 2 yards to the Thunderbird 39.
Ditoro ran for 11 yards and Van Briesen for 11 before Van Briesen made it 31-21 with his 17-yarder with 9:10 to play.
“We have to be balanced,'' Govier said. “We felt (West) was a little light in the box (guarding against the pass), and we could run on them.”
West had three more possessions, but didn't cross the 50 until the final minute.
“We can't let this game linger into next week,'' Huffman said.
Papillion-La Vista (4-1) ............................ 7 14 3 7—31
At Bellevue West (4-1) ............................ 7 7 7 0—21
W: CJ Johnson 30 pass from Brad Brazeal (Chris Hahn kick)
P: Alec Ditoro 34 run (Gage Romans kick)
P: Sean Van Briesen 22 pass from Ditoro (Romans kick)
W: Johnson 21 pass from Brazeal (Hahn kick)
P: Lucas Hostetler 12 pass from Ditoro (Romans kick)
W: Johnson 7 pass from Brazeal (Romans kick)
P: FG Romans 17
P: Van Briesen 17 run (Romans kick)
A: 2,500 (est.)
RUSHING: P, Van Briesen 21-153, Ditoro 18-100, team 2-minus 31. W, Brazeal 15-20, Mike Gilbert 13-45, Cole Patterson 2-14, Ryan Plambeck 1-2, Hunter Gage 1-1.
PASSING: P, Ditoro 13-25-2 122. W, Brazeal 30-47-1 274.
RECEIVING: P, Jack Kalina 4-31, Hostetler 1-12, Jalen Allison 3-24, Reid Matthias 1-26, Sean VanBriesen 3-23, Kyle Long 1-6. W, Johnson 12-139, Malik Hluchoweckyj 13-104, Cole Patterson 4-30, Gage 1-1.