Grand Island Senior High continues to excel at staying focused on the matter at hand.
The Class A No. 8-rated Islanders improved to 6-0 on the season and 2-0 in district play with a 69-0 homecoming victory over Omaha Bryan Friday night at rainy Memorial Stadium. Gaven Aken rushed for 143 yards and four touchdowns while Grand Island’s defense recorded its third consecutive shutout.
The victory sets up a much-anticipated matchup with No. 2-rated Millard West (6-0) next Friday in Grand Island.
“We’re locked in, for sure,” said Aken, who averaged 23.8 yards on his six carries against the Bears. “Everyone is ready to step up this week and focus on Millard West. We’ve done a great job of taking it one game at a time and now we’ll do our best to prepare for the next challenge.”
Grand Island led 34-0 just nine minutes into the game and 62-0 at halftime. Following Carson Cahoy’s 22-yard TD pass to Ace McKinnis that put the Islanders ahead 28-0 with 5:31 left in the first quarter, coach Jeff Tomlin’s No. 1 offensive unit called it a night after just seven offensive snaps.
“I was proud of our kids and the energy that we came out with,” Tomlin said. “We had a pretty good week of practice and I was happy with all of the guys that we cycled in because they were dialed in as well.”
Grand Island’s defense was stellar, limiting Omaha Bryan (0-6) to minus-28 yards of total offense. The Bears’ offense never made it into Islander territory with their best drive ending at their own 45-yard line.
It was the first time since at least 1997 that Grand Island has recorded three straight shutouts. The Islanders entered the game having blanked North Platte 35-0 on Sept. 20 and Lincoln North Star 38-0 on Sept. 27 and last allowed a score with 1:37 remaining in a 42-21 win at Papillion-La Vista on Sept. 13.
“It’s hard just to win a game sometimes in Class A, so I’m proud of our kids and the job they did on defense,” Tomlin said. “The coaching staff at Bryan is doing a great job of resurrecting that program — their kids played hard the entire game under tough circumstances. Those kids, in a couple of years, are going to be formidable.
“We were blessed to get out of the game with no injuries that I know of so we can go into the next game relatively healthy.”
Nose tackle Daylon Keolavone led Grand Island’s first-team defense with five total stops, including 1.5 tackles for loss, and linebacker Jordan Hofeldt blocked two punts. Linebacker Giovanny Coronado led the Islanders with seven total tackles, while defensive backs McKinnis and Marcus Holling both had interceptions.
Aken shined for Grand Island’s offense, which racked up 309 yards on 28 plays in a game that was played with a running clock the entire second half due to the 35-point rule. The 5-foot-10, 150-pound senior had an 18-yard TD run in the first quarter and then added scoring runs of 11, 36 and 33 yards in the second quarter.
“I’ve just been trying to help out the team in any way that I can,” Aken said. “I can’t really do anything without the linemen and everyone else doing their jobs. It’s never just about me, it’s about the whole team executing and having success.”
Tomlin said Aken has performed well for the Islanders all season, helping fellow running back Caleb Francl rest on offense as he’s dealt with early season injury issues. Francl had TD runs of 16 and 7 yards on his only two carries.
“Gaven has been stellar — what a great attitude,” Tomlin said. “He’s overcome a lot in the last couple of years in his life and he’s just continued to be a great worker for us. Last year, Gaven was our main scout-team guy and gave us a great look every week.
“He always goes hard and had earned everyone’s respect. He’s worked his way up the ladder and he’s a self-made man for sure.”
Aken said he definitely felt like he paid his dues last season, running scout team plays against Grand Island’s top defensive unit that included all-state linebacker Sam Sims and Co.
“Last year, I played a lot of scout team and I used to get hammered and hammered by Sam and all those big guys,” Aken said. “It was tough, but it has helped me out a lot. It has been really nice, going out there and getting some opportunities this year.”
Now, after playing five consecutive opponents who had sub-.500 records at kickoff, Tomlin won’t have to worry about keeping the Islanders focused next week. Millard West, which beat Kearney 23-13 Friday night in Omaha, will come to Memorial Stadium to meet Grand Island next week in a battle of two of Class A’s final three unbeatens.
“The kids understand the weight of this game and that the opponent is a great program in Millard West, which is playing awfully well,” Tomlin said. “It will be a great challenge for us and one that our kids are looking forward to.”