OMAHA — One week after nearly upsetting undefeated Omaha North, Grand Island didn’t have enough in the tank to cool off red-hot Millard South.
The Class A No. 10-rated (Omaha World-Herald) Patriots built a 17-0 lead and then pulled away with 21 fourth-quarter points for a 38-17 district victory over the No. 8 Islanders Friday night at Buell Stadium.
“We were definitely flat -- don’t know what to attribute that to,” Grand Island coach Jeff Tomlin said. “I’ll take the blame for that one, but based on our week of practice, we certainly didn’t sense that. The kids had a good week of practice. I thought we prepared well.
“But, obviously, we shot ourselves in the foot way too many times against a really good football team.”
The win was Millard South’s fourth straight after opening the season 0-2. Patriots’ coach Andy Means said his team’s confidence continues to grow.
“When Grand Island came back at us, we showed that confidence again that we could do it,” Means said. “Last year, that never would’ve happened and that’s kind of the difference. Their psyche has changed, they believe in what we’re doing and plus, they’re a year older.
“We have more experience and that maturity is showing that we didn’t have last year.”
The Islanders (3-3) committed four turnovers, including a pair of lost fumbles in the first half as Millard South (4-2) took a 10-0 lead into the intermission. Trailing 17-0, Grand Island benefitted from a pair of 15-yard facemask penalties to break into the scoring column on Gerard Dunning’s 8-yard touchdown run, cutting the Patriots’ lead to 17-7 with 5:54 left in the third quarter.
Aided by one of defensive end Laylaway Thoe’s two sacks on the night, Grand Island took advantage of good field position to pull within 17-10 on Brian Covarrubias’ 22-yard field goal with 1:17 left in the third.
Down 24-10, Grand Island once again moved within striking distance when Cole Evans connected with Will Nordhues on a third-and-15 play for an 80-yard scoring strike. The Covarrubias point-after kick reduced Millard South’s lead to 24-17 with 10:46 to play.
On the ensuing kickoff, Grand Island’s Ben Reilly forced a fumble that was recovered by teammate Brooks Douglass, giving the Islanders possession at the Millard South 32-yard line. However,
Evans’ first-down pass attempt was deflected by Millard South defensive lineman Kohl Herbolsheimer and intercepted by linebacker E.J. Mumm.
Two plays later, Ryan Lawrence broke loose for a 60-yard TD run and the Patriots led 31-17 with 9:39 left.
“The interception was huge and then we scored right away,” Means said. “Again, that wouldn’t have happened last year, but our defense made the stop, we got the turnover and were able to turn it into points. We have been creating a lot more turnovers this season, which really, really helps.”
Isaiah Harris added a 27-yard TD run to close the scoring with 6:41 to play as Millard South finished with 430 yards of total offense. Lawrence rushed 22 times for 140 yards and two TDs, while quarterback Andy Reel was an efficient 12 of 15 passing for 165 yards for the Patriots.
Evans led the Islanders, completing 10 of 21 pass attempts for 164 yards and rushing 12 times for 57 yards. Grand Island was limited to 117 rushing yards on 31 attempts.
The Islanders, who led Omaha North 20-6 after three quarters on Sept. 22, allowed three TDs in the fourth quarter for the second consecutive game.
“I felt like we took a lot of shots early and then we stabilized ourselves a little bit and defended them a little bit better,” Tomlin said. “Our offense got on track there in the third quarter and we bounced back, which was great to see, but we obviously turned the ball over way too many times and we gave up too many big plays on defense.”
Grand Island, which has three losses against top 10-rated opponents, will attempt to regroup with two straight homes games against Lincoln Pius X and Bellevue East.
“Our coaching staff will rally our kids and we’ll continue to work as a hard as we can,” Tomlin said. “I believe in our kids. I love our kids and they’re going to bounce back strong.
“We have great leaders. They’ll respond and we’ll play our hearts out.”