When: 7:15 p.m. Tuesday
Where: Memorial Stadium, Lincoln
Radio: KOZN (1620 AM, Omaha), KCRO (660 AM, Omaha), KXPN (1460 AM, Kearney), KICS (1550 AM, Hastings)
When No. 2 North (11-1) has the ball: Coach Larry Martin’s Vikings have called junior Calvin Strong’s No. 5 for more than half of their plays this season and he’s delivered records — 2,764 yards, 42 touchdowns — while they average 41 points a game. Davion Reed and Marquise Lewis, each with five touchdown catches, are the main targets for first-year quarterback Payton Nelson (1,190 yards, 14 touchdowns). Westside, which is allowing 15.5 points a contest, has safety Drew Fitzmorris and linebacker Matt Connelly as its tackle leaders.
When No. 3 Westside (11-1) has the ball: Coach Brett Froendt’s Warriors, who average 39 points, have nearly a 50-50 split in their run-pass balance. Senior quarterback Christian Hagan, who’s thrown for 1,987 yards and 21 touchdowns, needs 74 yards for the school record. Jamaal Conway-Smith has 60 catches for 899 yards and eight scores, with Malek Pittman catching seven TD passes. Lane Yates overcame an early-season ankle injury to repeat as a 1,000-yard rusher. Elijah Hawkins, at linebacker, leads a balanced North tackle chart. In their past nine games the Vikings are allowing about 300 yards a game and 16.8 points.
Stu’s pick: North’s defense couldn’t make Grand Island one-dimensional, nor get the Islanders off-schedule, until a couple of late turnovers led to a comeback victory in the semifinals. Westside handled the Islanders 45-13 early in the season. The Warriors’ run defense has been suspect at times — it gave up 315 yards to Millard North’s Cole Fisher in Westside’s only loss — which doesn’t bode well going up against Strong.
So does this shape up as high scoring? We thought the same thing for last year’s final involving North and yet the fireworks didn’t ignite until the fourth quarter of a 17-14 loss to Millard North. The forecast is that Strong becomes the state’s first 3,000-yard rusher, but Hagan’s ability to punt, pass and kick is what edges the Vikings and gives Westside its first state title since 1982.