KEARNEY — Midway through the fourth, my face mask tore right down the middle seam. A first-half pass from Kearney Catholic senior quarterback Heinrich Haarberg was batted at the line of scrimmage, popped straight up in the air and fell into the arms of a St. Paul defender, Haarberg’s first turnover of the year. The Stars dropped would-be touchdowns on multiple occasions, both early and late.
Just one of those nights.
Entering into the game ranked second in C-1 and 2-0 on the season, Kearney Catholic’s high-powered offense stuttered and a bigger, more physical St. Paul team ran away with the game. A 14-7 Wildcat lead heading into the fourth quarter ended in a 33-7 scoreline.
“I think they just wore us down late,” head coach Rashawn Harvey said. “They won it up front tonight.”
You could see it happening. St. Paul boasts six players on its roster weighing at least 280 pounds. They have four pushing 300. The Wildcats punched for the first three quarters of the game and then started hitting the Stars with counters and sweeps to the perimeter in the fourth quarter.
Kearney Catholic junior lineman Jake Masker said the Wildcats had the Star defense guessing. And once the defensive line was gassed, the second level couldn’t get off blocks, and St. Paul running back Eli Larson—a 6-foot, 210-pound tank—started running wild. He had touchdown runs of 50 and 67 yards in the fourth quarter, ending the game with 250 yards and three scores on 19 carries.
The skies cleared up before gametime—a departure from the rainy, dreary overcast that had hung over much of the area the week leading up to Friday—but things were still a little dreary on the field for the Stars. An offense that had scored 100 points combined in its first two showings had just seven in Week 3.
A senior class with hopes of a dream walk-off season now faces its first does of adversity.
“‘You’re at a crossroads right now, you can either go left or you can go right,’” Harvey told his team after the game. “I saw some bickering out there a little bit, guys frustrated with each other, rightfully so. You’re frustrated about what you saw tonight. As a coaching staff we’re frustrated. But we’re still gonna love up on you and we’re going to coach you. What direction to you wanna go?
“You can go BCD about this—blame, complain, defend—and if you do that it’s gonna spread like wildfire within the team. If you’re in a leadership position on this team and you hear guys going the BCD route, you gotta stomp that out because we’ve got two directions: we can go left or right.”
The Stars usually hold a fifth quarter party after games. The team stays together and decompresses from the evening. For the first two weeks there has been food and positive vibes. Kearney Catholic has rolled. Friday night might have been reason to break the trend, but Haarberg said no one was down. No one felt any kind of demoralization. “We just didn’t go out and execute,” he said.
Fingers can be pointed after the fact, but during their Saturday morning film study, Harvey only showed 15-20 plays from St. Paul before moving on to their next opponent, Ogallala. No dwelling. Sometimes it’s as simple as that—not executing. Masker told me there was maybe a bit of overlooking that happened early on.
“We all recognize what we did wrong,” Haarberg said. “It’s everyone. I’m not going to call out people because we all did something wrong (Friday) night.”
Kearney Catholic got nothing from its run game. On the heels of a 100-yard performance, running back Cale Conrad was mostly an afterthought in the game; St. Paul’s front made things miserable up the middle.
So, being behind on the scoreboard, Kearney Catholic took shots, which put it behind the sticks often. Haarberg faced pressure he hadn’t yet faced this season, and for the second straight week the completion percentage was under 50%.
“We have the speed and athleticism to score on any given play, but we need to be able to hit the short stuff and catch it before we start taking shots downfield,” he said of how to get things back on track.
The last point is key.
“We dropped three touchdowns on our first three drives,” Harvey said. “It should have been 21-0 right from the jump. Second week in a row we had a lot of dropped balls tonight.”
One of the biggest came in the fourth quarter, from Kearney Catholic’s 6-yard line. Wideout Samson David beat his man early and was running free down the middle of the field. Haarberg dropped the ball right into his hands, but David couldn’t make the catch. It would have been a 94-yard touchdown, a score that would have cut the deficit to 12 points.
“That was the one I lost my cool,” Haarberg acknowledged after. “I try not to let my emotions show if they drop a ball. But that one, that was just two weeks of pent up (frustration). ‘Oh my God, can we catch a ball?’ Coaches saw that and they talked to me about it, it doesn’t matter if it’s one play or every play, I can’t let my emotions get the best of me. … I’ve seen these guys make these catches thousands of times. They’re just in their heads right now.”
Harvey told his quarterback to love up on his wide receiver.
“I just wanna see a little more leadership out of him after that,” he said. “He’s a young man, he’s a high schooler, he’s a little frustrated. … But they’re hurting too, they dropped the ball, they understand how big that was. Go over there and love up on them a little bit, say, ‘We’ll get ‘em next time.’”
There will be a next time. That’s the key thing to remember this week. Don’t let one disappointing showing become two. Understand St. Paul was just one of those nights. Use it as a learning experience and build.
That’s the vibe you get from the team. Disappointment, but not dejection. The team’s leaders still have plenty of confidence in their abilities moving forward.
“Bigger scheme, this game really doesn’t hurt us because it’s not a district opponent,” Harvey said. “If we win our district we get that automatic bid to the Nebraska State Playoffs, but a valuable learning experience. If you wanna make a deep run in the Nebraska State Playoffs, you’ve gotta be able to win the trenches battle.”
Derek is a newbie on the Hail Varsity staff covering Husker athletics. In college, he was best known as ‘that guy from Twitter.’ He has covered a Sugar Bowl, a tennis national championship and almost everything in between (except an NCAA men’s basketball tournament game… *tears*). In his spare time, he can be found arguing with literally anyone about sports.