CLASS A FINAL: ELKHORN SOUTH AT WESTSIDE 7:15 p.m. Friday • NET
After they won their semifinals by a total of nine points, Omaha Westside and Elkhorn South believe those games were good preparation for the final game of the Class A football season.
Westside hadn't been in a four-quarter game until outlasting Millard South 35-33. Warriors coach Brett Froendt saw a lot of positive takeaways from it.
"We were able to build confidence. We can fight back adversity and fight back from behind. We saw the energy on the sideline consistently be high, and the mindset was very positive," he said. "We hadn't been able to test that all season and see that, so it's great to see how we responded to those situations.
"From that we gained a lot of confidence in ourselves and each other. So that was a huge benefit certainly to finish on top in that game."
Elkhorn South's defense in the Storm's three playoff games has allowed a total of 10 points. But Kearney, too, gave the Storm a four-quarter game, losing 10-3.
"Definitely in some of these games that we played recently, it's been like a heavyweight boxing match where eventually those body blows in the first half show up in the fourth quarter,'' Elkhorn South coach Guy Rosenberg said. "We want to accumulate those body blows on the opponent and keep the legs of our pass rushers fresh, and if we can get ahead, then we can turn those pass rushers loose. That's been a good formula for us."
Top-ranked Westside (11-0) hosts No. 5 Elkhorn South (10-1) at 7:15 p.m. Friday on NET. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the state finals aren't in Memorial Stadium for the first time in 25 years. Each team was allotted 750 tickets for the game at Phelps Field, 87th and Pacific Streets.
Not playing in the home of the Huskers may have hit the Storm harder than Westside since it became a true road game for them.
Rosenberg, who supported the NSAA's decisions including moving the finals up from early next week, said he would have preferred to tell the team in person but the situation was still in flux when the semifinal ended. When the players went on Zoom for the weekly Saturday morning video session, they knew of the changes.
"I just told them it's OK to be frustrated, OK to be upset, but don't let it interfere with your preparation or your performance once we get going,'' Rosenberg said. "I think that that's been the case.
"I can see from the kids' standpoint that they grow up and want to play at Memorial Stadium and seen the games in the past on TV or have been there in person. They're resilient kids. They're excited to be playing for the state championship. They put it behind them and directed their full focus to get ready for Westside."
Because Westside's semifinal had a later kickoff, the Warriors knew they wouldn't be in Lincoln but at Phelps Field before they went home Friday night. Froendt said they took not being on the biggest stage in stride.
"This year, they've heard all kinds of weird stuff,'' he said. "They were just happy to have the win because the final is what we strive for."
Unlike last year's snowy field for the Class A final, weather won't be an issue Friday, nor was it during a record-warmweek that allowed for an overlap with other seasonal activities. Like decorating for the holidays.
"I told the players, 'Hey, you know you're doing something right when you're practicing football and somebody (nearby) is putting up Christmas lights,'" Rosenberg said.
When Elkhorn South has the ball: The Storm don't boast of a 1,000-yard rusher or passer. This is a year, coach Guy Rosenberg said, where he heeds the creed of the late Iowa coach Hayden Fry — scratch where it itches — and the offense by committee approach is working fine. Cole Ballard has 742 yards rushing, quarterback Dilan Krause 587 and Ben Warren 566. Krause has thrown for 687 yards. He left the semifinal win over Kearney early with an ankle injury, but Rosenberg said Thursday night that he and Will Skradis are both ready to play. Westside's defense has playmakers on all three levels, including leading tackler Ben Radicia (82 solos, 36 assists) and defensive backs Avante Dickerson (Minnesota pledge) and Koby Bretz (NU). But the Warriors gave up 440 yards passing to Lincoln East and 333 yards rushing to Millard South.
When Westside has the ball: Pick a playmaker for the Warriors — North Dakota State pledge Cole Payton has thrown for 1,495 yards and rushed for 900 with a 9.0 per-carry average; junior Dominic Rezac is averaging 127.6 a game rushing; Dickerson and Bretz have each topped 500 yards receiving. The offense averages 426 yards a game. Elkhorn South will try to plug the run with its big linemen. It's giving up only 53 yards a game rushing and 103 passing against a lineup of eight teams that made it to the round of 16. Outside linebacker Makhi Nelson-Douglas has committed to Northern Illinois (so has Westside lineman Cade Haberman), and defensive end Teddy Prochazka is in the Huskers' fold. Cooper Taylor is on the front line and Joey Falk "is playing as well as any safety" in the state, Rosenberg said.
History lesson: Westside hasn't won a state football championship since 1982, when it completed a two-year, 24-0 run. Elkhorn South was Class B champion in 2015 and 2016 and moved up into Class A two years later. The teams didn't meet this year. Westside won 35-21 in 2018 and 38-7 last year. Elkhorn South's only loss this season was 17-14 to Millard South on Sept. 4.