Week 6 feels like the best slate of matchups across the state this season.
The biggest game this week is in Class A with Bellevue West visiting Gretna on Friday. Here is an in-depth look at the game and the history that will be made by the two quarterbacks.
Gretna has won 11 in a row if you include the 2021 state championship game. (We all saw it. It happened. They won.)
As far as I can tell this will be the first time two true Power Five quarterback prospects have lined up against each other in the state’s history. It certainly will be the first time since 2000. Zane Flores, a senior for Gretna, is committed to Oklahoma State, and Daniel Kaelin, a junior, holds multiple Power Five offers. Both will be quarterbacks at the next level.
According to my research, there have been a handful of games in state history that featured a matchup of high school quarterbacks who went on to Power Five schools, but those players did not both end up playing quarterback in college.
There are two games that come to mind.
In 1990, Bellevue West and Omaha Benson played at Benson. Two future Nebraska players Tony Veland (Benson) and Clester Johnson (Bellevue West) were the starting quarterbacks. However, Veland was recruited as a quarterback to NU. Johnson was recruited as a running back. Veland ended up as a safety, and Johnson became a wing back.
In 2003, Papillion-La Vista’s Allan Everidge squared off against Millard North’s Adam Shada. Everidge went on to play quarterback at Kansas State and Wisconsin, while Shada was recruited as a defensive back to Iowa.
There were plenty of matchups between two quarterbacks that played at the Division I level. Gerry Gdowski (Fremont) and Bryan McWilliams (Lincoln High) squared off in the early 1980s. Gdowski went on to play quarterback at Nebraska and McWilliams played quarterback at Army.
October 29, 1982. Norfolk played Fremont in week 8. Clete Blakeman (Norfolk), a senior, was the starting quarterback for the Panthers. Gdowski was a freshman. Gdowski, a freshman in 1982 didn’t start his first varsity game at quarterback until the third game of his sophomore season (1983). Both would go on to play quarterback at Nebraska.
In the days quarterbacks were listed on all-state teams, there are four examples of two leading rushers/throwers who played against each other.
No one was listed as a quarterback on all-state teams between 1942 and 1970, but in 1946 Gerald Ferguson of Scottsbluff and Leo McKillip of McCook were both the lead run/pass backs for their teams and were recruited to Nebraska and Notre Dame, respectively.
In 1954, Mike Dugan of Creighton Prep and Gene Haman of Omaha Central were the leading passers on their teams and were recruited to Notre Dame and Nebraska, respectively.
Dave Lebsack of Lincoln Northeast and Kaye Carstens of Fairbury both quarterbacked their teams in 1961 and played against each other in the Mid East Conference. Nebraska recruited both. Carstens played defensive back, and Lebsack eventually transferred to Nebraska Wesleyan.
Wayne Weber (Hastings) and Larry Wachholz (North Platte) played four times, twice in 1961 and twice in 1962. Both were all-state backs and were recruited to Nebraska. Weber played quarterback at NU. Wachholtz was an All-American defensive back at NU.
Flores and Kaelin Relationship
So, Friday’s Gretna vs. Bellevue West game is historic even before the teams take the field. But behind the scenes, Flores (6-foot-3, 190-pounds) and Kaelin (6-3, 195) have been competing with one another for a while. The two work out together in the offseason at Warren Academy with John Teigland. They know each other well and have developed mutual respect.
“Danny and I get along very well,” Flores said. “For the past few years we have been throwing together with Coach Teigland during most of the offseason. Every time we throw we’re always competing with each other.”
“I would consider Zane and I friends,” he said. “We support each other and have pushed each other to improve our game. We’ve both been able to watch each other develop over the years and it’s definitely cool to see how far we have come.”
Although Friday night in Gretna will likely be a first for pure passing, Power Five-bound in-state quarterbacks, the state probably won’t have to wait long for the next. Omaha North sophomore Sebastian Circo already holds multiple Power Five offers, and Omaha Westside junior Anthony Rezac has taken multiple gameday visits to Power Five schools with another planned for Wisconsin on Saturday.
Breaking Down The Game
The No. 2 Dragons are clearly led by Flores. The Oklahoma State commit has been extremely efficient completing 70 percent of his passes for 959 yards and 12 touchdowns through five games.
The Dragon passing attack is balanced. The loss of senior receiver and lead returning target Joe Roll in Week 3 has opened opportunities for players like senior Tyson Bognaowski and Colin Sims. Caleb Schnell (6-3, 200) came into his senior campaign with high expectations and is the teams leading receiver with 214 yards in four games.
Junior running back Isaiah Weber has had a strong season. In five games, he is averaging 8.8 yards per carry and has eight touchdowns.
For the T-birds, Kaelin has led the high power passing attack with 1,767 yards completing 64 percent of his passes and 19 touchdowns.
Kaelin has plenty of targets. Junior receivers Isaiah McMorris and Dae’vonn Hall lead the way. McMorris leads the team with 733 receiving yards while Hall has added 539 in five games.
The Bellevue West rushing attack is led by Gio Contreras. The senior has compiled 509 yards on the ground with 10 touchdowns.
Bellevue West fumbled 11 times and turned the ball over five times in the 35-34 Week 4 loss to Kearney. Clearly that is not a recipe for success, specifically against a Dragon defense that has created 18 turnovers (10 interceptions) in five games.
Whether either team can create enough pressure on the opposing team’s quarterback is key. Gretna has the better defensive front and an advantage with seniors Korver Demma, Mason Goldman and Isaiah Weber anchoring the defensive line. Kaelin will need to be extremely efficient and get the ball out quickly. It’s unlikely Kaelin will have enough time to go through multiple progressions.
Look for Gretna to take advantage of the seam routes that Kearney and others have had success with against the Bellevue West defense. The T-Bird defense is as healthy as it has been since the start of fall camp. Donovan Whitfield, who was having a breakout campaign until he suffered an elbow injury against Omaha Westside, will return along with Caleb Jacobmeier. Those two starters will look to make things hard on Flores at the second and third level.
Both teams like to use the short passing game, but big chunk plays by both teams are possible. Look for the scoreboard operator to be busy.