Grand Island Senior High’s one short week of preparation coincides which what should be the Islanders’ toughest test of the regular season.
Class A No. 3-rated Grand Island travels to Buell Stadium to take on No. 4 Millard West Thursday at 7 p.m.
Islanders coach Jeff Tomlin said playing with one day less of preparation provides its challenges although both teams are obviously in the same situation.
“As far as the coaching staff, the challenge is getting the game plan ready, the scouting reports ready, film cutups, all that with a day less to do it,” he said. “It’s always a long weekend, but it makes it a grinding weekend.
“For the kids, they need to come in on Sunday. We didn’t practice, but we had to have a scouting report walk-through session. (The short week) just speeds things up. To me, it’s better (to have it) in Week 7 than in Week 2 when you are still trying to find yourself. We have enough experience with this bunch that they are handling it well. But there are a few challenges that go along with it.”
The Islanders (6-0) have proven to have an ability to remain focused on the next game. After four convincing wins against overmatched opponents, practices have received an energy jolt knowing that a battle with the Wildcats (5-1) looms.
“I think our kids know it could be a one-point game, a three-point game,” Tomlin said. “It’s going to be a hard-fought game, and they respect Millard West. They know they’re an excellent team.
“Our kids prepare well all the time, but you can tell there’s an extra spark.”
Millard West has won four in a row since a 31-14 loss to No. 1 Omaha Burke on Aug. 31. Those wins include handing No. 7 Millard South its lone loss 34-27 two weeks ago and winning at Kearney last week 42-20.
Against the Bearcats, quarterback Tristan Gomes threw for three touchdowns and ran for another score.
“I think they’re very balanced on offense,” Tomlin said. “I think their quarterback runs it and throws it very well. They’re an option team, so you need to stay disciplined on option assignments. They run multiple options – sprint options, trap options, veer options, mid-line options.
“At the same time, they’re able to spread it out with some really elite receivers and throw the ball all over the place. So it’s not just like preparing for a straight option team with some play-action passes. You’ve got to prepare for a spread option team.”
Grand Island’s defense is allowing 10 points a game. It has faced a variety of offenses, and Tomlin said that could help against the Wildcats.
“We’ve seen a lot of zone read and then we saw the pure flexbone mid-line veer at North Platte,” he said. “So there’s been a lot of carryover, and that’s helped the installations of the game plan with our kids being familiar with our rules to stop those plays.”
Grand Island’s offense has been piling up points. The Islanders have yet to be held under 42 points and they are second in scoring in Class A, just three points behind No. 2 Bellevue West.
But Grand Island hasn’t faced a defense like Millard West’s yet.
“They’ll be the best defense we’ve seen so far – the best size, the best speed, very well disciplined, very well coached,” Tomlin said.
The Islanders need to do the same things that got them to 6-0 so far.
“I think mainly we need to take care of the ball,” Tomlin said. “We’ve been good as far as ball security for the most part except (against Lincoln High).
“We need to take care of the ball and make sure that we’re blocking until the whistle. We’ve got to make plays to move the chains, so third-down conversions and passing efficiency will be important.”
It’s been over a month since Grand Island’s starters needed to play a four-quarter game. Tomlin said that’s something the team doesn’t worry about since it can’t control that, but he feels confident his team is ready for the type of battle it expects from Millard West.
“I told our kids if we didn’t practice so hard and prepare so game-like in practice I might be concerned,” he said of the lack of the starters needing to play four quarter games. “But I think we practice them so hard and they go so hard in practice that I think they’ll be more than ready to go.”
With the playoffs kicking off at the end of the month, this is the type of test that will help the Islanders gear up for postseason mode.
“Obviously it’s a district title on the line,” Tomlin said. “It’s the third district game out of four – we’ve still got one at the end of the season.
“It keeps all of our goals as far as winning our district and having a decent seed in the playoffs on the line. It’s a matter of pride and wanting to be the best that we possibly could be. I think it’s going to be a great game.”
And it should be a close game.
GRAND ISLAND 28, MILLARD WEST 27