Tristan Alvano
Westside's Tristan Alvano kicks a field goal during Monday's Class A state championship game against Gretna. (NebPreps photo / Mac Johnson)

State football rewind: What sets Alvano apart, Benning’s welcome-back party is a blast, and numbers that pop


LINCOLN — Tristan Alvano had nailed four field goals earlier in the Class A state football final, including a 50-yarder. On a cold night at Memorial Stadium, he had the hot leg.

But this was different.

The Omaha Westside senior had the floor, with his team trailing by a point and with 4 seconds to go. A school’s chance at a state football title rested on his big right leg. Many players may have cracked under the pressure. Many would have.

Turns out, Alvano was built to kick in huge moments.

He boomed a 45-yarder to lift the Warriors to a 43-41 win against defending champion Gretna on Monday night in all likelihood the best performance by a kicker in state finals history.

“I was stoned-cold,” Alvano said just moments after the win. “Just my mind was set on one thing – kick the ball through the uprights.

“I trusted everyone on my unit and they did their job, so I did mine. The ball basically kicks itself at that point.”

Alvano’s winning kick capped a wild football game that saw Gretna rally from down 31-14. Aided by an incredible 69-yard pass by Zane Flores to Blayke Moore, the Dragons took a one-point lead with 1:55 remaining.

But the Warriors didn’t panic. They had their own star QB in junior Anthony Rezac, who threw for 337 yards and rushed for 83 more. And they had the best leg in the state.

Actually, “I think he’s the best kicker in the country,” first-year Westside coach Paul Limongi said.

Alvano, who booted a 57-yarder earlier in the season, became the first player in state playoff history to make five field goals in a game. He also connected from 44, 50(!), 26 and 44. He had room to spare on each of them.

The first four added to Westside’s lead. The last one ignited a Westside party that stretched from Memorial Stadium to 87th Street in Omaha.

“Once I saw the kick go through the uprights, we partied down on the other end of the end zone,” Alvano said. “I’m still hurting now. I’ve never had so many people tackle me. But man …”

What gives a kid the confidence to come up with so many clutch kicks?

“His kicking coach is a sports psychologist, so he’s dealt with this every day in practice,” Limongi said. “They work two hours every day. You don’t kick for 15 minutes. He’s there as long as we (are), playing games, being in situations and working on his mental strength.”

The week got better for Alvano, who tweeted on Tuesday morning that he had received a scholarship offer to Nebraska.

What a week. What a game. And what a moment.

“Oh, my goodness,” Alvano said. “I’ve dreamed of that moment as a kicker, to hit the game-winner. State championship game as a senior, nothing will ever beat that.”

What a night for Benning, too!

If Alvano had his coming-out party Monday night, Caleb Benning had a welcome-back ball.

The highly recruited junior made his return to the field after missing the nine previous games because of a broken collarbone.

It looked like he didn’t miss a game.

Benning had his hands all over the Warriors’ win, intercepting two passes on defense while hauling in 14 catches for 103 yards on offense.

“I’m not going to lie, I definitely played with some nerves,” Benning said. “But once the first play hit, it was like what I’ve done my whole life – playing ball with my guys.”

Benning’s first interception — on a great read of the QB — set up Westside’s third TD of the game and gave the Warriors a 21-7 lead. His second pick came later in the quarter when he stepped in front of a Zane Flores pass in front of the Gretna sideline.

Benning, the son of former Husker and Westside defensive coordinator Damon Benning, nearly had a third pick in the second half, this one coming while he was on his back.

It was like having two all-state players back, Limongi said of Benning’s ability to impact games on both sides.

“We knew we had to play in this game to get him back,” Limongi added. “It’s a testament to him and his dad to get him back. He stayed active, he was in shape, and when he came back, he was rested, and that’s why he had the game he did.”

Here’s guessing Benning can’t wait to play a full slate of games next fall, but hopefully he savors this season for a long time.

Caleb Benning

Westside’s Caleb Benning nearly hauls in a touchdown during the Class A state final against Gretna on Monday. (NebPreps photo / Mac Johnson)

Dotting the map

Here is a salute to football in Southwest Nebraska.

Hitchcock County, representing the bottom left corner of the state map, stymied top-ranked and favorite Howells-Dodge 22-12 in Class D-2 to win the school’s first state championship. Not just in football. Any Falcon sport.

But this wasn’t just a win for the communities of Trenton and Culbertson.

Northeast Nebraska has flexed its football muscles for many years, with programs like Howells, Dodge (and later Howells-Dodge), Creighton, Clarkson-Leigh, Humphrey St. Francis and Elgin dominating the eight-man landscape.

Add Falls City Sacred Heart’s presence in the trophy case, and the eight-man hardware leans heavy to the east side of the state.

But Hitchcock County changed the narrative Monday behind a dominant defensive performance. The Falcons became the first team from the southwest part of the state to win a Class D-2 title, and only the second to win in eight-man, period, joining Dundy County-Stratton (D-1 in 2020).

Obviously, there are far fewer schools in Southwest Nebraska, but still – way to represent.

Numbers that pop

9,163: Career passing yards for Gretna senior Zane Flores, extending his state record. The Oklahoma State recruit threw for a season-best 414 Monday. And, man, does he throw a pretty ball.

8,800: Estimated crowd for the Class A final.

420: Total yards by Westside QB Anthony Rezac, who made many clutch throws and converted several key third downs. Tough, smart, great arm and fast. Did we mention tough?

43: Points by Westside. Keep in mind, the Warriors were without starting receiver and the fastest athlete in the state, Jaylen Lloyd.

48: Kyle Kasik 48, Neligh-Oakdale 14. Kasik, the talented senior running back from Clarkson-Leigh, scored all 48 of his team’s points (six TDs and six two-pointers) in the Class D-1 state championship. He was a human pinball machine.

320: Kasik finished with 320 yards on the ground. Clarkson-Leigh had 366 as a team.

2:44: The amount of time it took for Gretna and Westside to surpass last year’s combined point total (10). Each team scored a touchdown on their opening possession Monday. Gretna won last year’s state final meeting 7-3.

12: Hitchcock County held Howells-Dodge to 12 points in Monday’s D-2 final.

40: Howells-Dodge’s lowest point output this season before Monday.

The special connection between Flores, Kuester and their record-breaking careers

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