Two of the last three undefeated teams remaining in Class A meet up Friday evening in Memorial Stadium, and for host Grand Island Senior High, the timing couldn’t be better.
After playing four opponents in the last five games who have one or zero wins, the No. 7-rated Islanders need a challenge.
No. 2 Millard West will certainly provide that.
“This is perfect timing,” Grand Island coach Jeff Tomlin said. “We need to see exactly where we stack up. We need an incredibly hard challenge, and this is it. The kids are really looking forward to it. They’re chomping at the bit. It should be a fun one.
“We know we’ve got an excellent football team coming in. Our kids are excited, and their kids are excited. It’s a great home game for us, so we’re looking forward to the challenge.”
And what better time to welcome a team like Millard West to town than when the defense is clicking on all cylinders?
After struggling in a 42-21 win over Papillion-La Vista, the Islanders shut out North Platte, Lincoln North Star and Omaha Bryan. It is the first time since 1987 that Grand Island has blanked three consecutive opponents.
“I think we’ve played faster,” Tomlin said. “I think the kids are trusting their training, trusting their keys and reads. It took a little while for this group to jell. Secondary-wise, I think we’re jelling pretty good. I think communication has improved.
“I think moving Daylon Keolavone to nose hasn’t hurt. That’s helped our defense in a lot of ways and helped our depth. So there are a lot of factors all combined, but I think we’re playing at a pretty high level right now.”
Keolavone, a 5-foot-11, 195-pound junior, leads the Islanders in tackles with 17 solo and 22 assisted.
Millard West already owns wins over No. 3 Millard South, No. 4 Omaha Burke and No. 9 Kearney.
Last year the Wildcats edged the Islanders 30-24 in double overtime.
“They’re similar in that they’ve got a lot of guys back,” Tomlin said. “They’ve got a lot of good players back. They’re a little bit different offensively. They’ve always been somewhat of a veer team. Now they’re fully committed to being a veer and an option team, and they do it really, really well.
“They don’t do it out of the 30-plus formations that we saw last year. They’re more of a six to eight formations type of thing. But they’re a very solid team offensively and defensively. They’re one of the faster teams that we’ve played in the last couple of years. They’re just really sound.”
Last week, quarterback Tristan Gomes rushed for 109 yards and a touchdown and passed for another score to help Millard West top Kearney 23-13 after falling behind 13-0.
“I think we have to be very disciplined in our assignments,” Tomlin said. “We have to throw different looks at them. We can’t sit in the same look all the time and expect to give a quarterback of that caliber a lot of the same reads because he’s really good. We’ve got to throw a lot of different things at them and then scrap and make our own breaks.”
On offense, Grand Island’s starters should come in well-rested. In last week’s 69-0 rout of Omaha Bryan, the first team was on the field for seven snaps and recorded four touchdowns.
Needless to say, it’ll be much, much more difficult to score against a Millard West squad that has allowed a total of 47 points over six games.
“We’ll need to be able to throw to set up the run and run to set up the throw,” Tomlin said. “We’ll need really good balance and take really good care of the football. It’ll be one of the fastest defenses that we’ve played in quite some time, so we’re going to have to get after it.
“But we’ll have to be able to run the ball inside. We’re hoping that our passing game can open up some things inside for us on the run and our run can compliment our passing game too.”
Quarterback Carson Cahoy is 73-for-102 (71.6%) for 992 yards with 11 touchdowns and no interceptions. Gaven Aken leads the rushing attack with 405 yards on 64 carries (6.3 ypc) with nine touchdowns.
One of the X factors may be the weather, which is forecast to include chilly and breezy conditions.
“It’ll affect the special teams, for sure,” Tomlin said. “It may affect the passing game. They’re primarily a running team. I think we do a good job of practicing in all conditions, so I anticipate our kids will adjust well and their kids will as well.
“But it’ll definitely have an effect in the kicking game, field position (and) decisions you make in the punting game.”
Northwest (5-1) at York (2-4)
Class B No. 4-rated Northwest looks to snap a 7-game losing streak in its series against York.
Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.
The Dukes have dropped four straight games after being hit hard by graduation from teams that won the Class B state title in 2017 and advanced to the semifinals last season.
The Vikings are averaging 163 yards passing and 138 yards rushing per game. Quarterback Rans Sanders leads the team in rushing (316 yards, 6 TDs) and is 60-for-100 passing for 819 yards with eight touchdowns and three interceptions.
Sean Juengst has been his favorite target with 25 catches for 415 yards with six touchdowns.
Senior linebacker Ty Heaton leads the defense with 11 solo and 69 assisted tackles.
GICC (3-3) at Wood River (2-4)
Somebody gets back on the winning track when Grand Island Central Catholic travels to Wood River for Friday’s 7 p.m. meeting.
After starting 3-0, the Crusaders have lost three in a row for the second consecutive season.
Wood River has been alternating two-game winning streaks and two-game losing streaks. The Eagles fell to C-2 No. 2 St. Paul 41-0 two weeks ago and then saw Centura come on strong in the fourth quarter last week to post a 26-14 victory.
Wood River averages 122 yards rushing and 47 yards passing per game. Senior Trey Zessin has rushed for 277 yards and three touchdowns
Dorchester (4-1) at Heartland Lutheran (4-1)
Six-man No. 7-rated Heartland Lutheran looks to bounce back after last week’s loss to No. 1 Harvard, but to do so the Red Hornets will have to win a battle of 4-1 teams.
Kickoff at Heartland Lutheran is set for Friday at 7 p.m.
Dorchester dropped out of the ratings after a 56-27 loss to Deshler on Sept. 27, the Dragons’ lone win of the season. The Longhorns’ opponents have a combined record of 4-16.