MINDEN — The drive from Kearney Catholic out to Minden, Nebraska, is only about 30 minutes. The plan was for the Stars to load up the busses and leave by 4:30. At 4:45, when rubber hadn’t yet met the road, there were some nervous glances being passed around.
The team had to move from outside to inside, the school’s Athletic Director was talking back and forth with the coaching staff, and a pair of starters—Cale Conrad, a senior starter at running back and linebacker, and his brother Koren, a junior defensive end—left the team.
The brothers needed to stay behind.
“I just figured I had to step it up tonight and just play my game,” said junior running back Riley Grieser.
Usually Conrad’s backup in the backfield, Grieser had only a bus-ride south to prepare for his first start of the season. He’d gotten a total of 16 carries in the teams first three games, totaling 73 yards.
The plan for Minden was to run the ball.
“Our offense needs to run through the run game,” head coach Rashawn Harvey told me. “A lot of people think we just want to throw it 40, 50 times a game, that’s not what we want to do. We want to take what the defense gives us, and (Friday night) they were giving us the run and so we had to establish the run game.”
Grieser went for 120 yards on 22 carries, finding holes, making would-be tacklers miss, and scoring the game’s first touchdown. The Stars played their most complete game in weeks—stout on defense, disciplined on special teams, and by the book offensively—en route to a 38-0 win over the Minden Whippets.
The last time the Stars were on the field, Sept. 11 against St. Paul, they were punched in the mouth. A COVID-related cancellation a week ago cost them a chance to rinse that bad taste out. Harvey liked his team’s readiness this time around.
“The biggest thing going into this game was that we reminded our kids about the last time we were on that field in Minden,” he said. The Stars entered 3-1 and lost 16-14 two seasons ago. “We went over there and laid an egg because we went over there not mentally prepared because it was Minden. They snuck up on us and they got us that year. The kids knew that we need to go out and perform and erase that memory of the last time we were there. They had a great week of practice, and they were excited about playing.”
Grieser set the table.
He broke off 18 yards on his first touch of the game. The offense had just three points at the end of the first quarter, but while the defense was back to the stifling, attacking brand of ball it had played its first two weeks, the offense seemed to be working itself into form.
Grieser’s first score of the night came with 2:32 to play in the second quarter. The Stars went 38 yards in six plays. On the second play of Minden’s ensuing drive, senior wideout and corner Logan Miner picked off the Whippets to start Kearney Catholic once again inside Minden territory.
A holding call on second down had the Stars facing third-and-long with the clock winding down. Star quarterback and Husker commit Heinrich Haarberg dropped back, immediately saw the seas part in front of him and exploded like a rocket down the middle of the field. He went 37 yards for the touchdown, untouched.
The Stars suddenly had a 17-0 lead at halftime, and they never looked back.
“I think we played a very good, complete game in all aspects,” Harvey said. “We were worried about coming out and being a little rusty, but I don’t think we showed any rust.
“The defense responded with a shutout. Special teams was on point. … We got back to playing Stars football and were excellent in all phases.”
The first two offensive possessions of the second half featured punts, but Kearney Catholic scored touchdowns on each of its last three possessions of the game. Haarberg found Miner on a pretty ball to his outside shoulder in the corner of the end zone from 21 yards away, and then ran over a Whippet defender at the goal line to cap a 15-yard run on the next possession.
He finished 13-for-23 for 134 yards passing and a score, with a season-high 82 rushing yards. Haarberg didn’t need to do much through the air because the Stars had everything working on the ground.
“When we finally got to Riley (to tell him it was his game), he was like, ‘Yes sir, I’m ready,’” Harvey said of the running back’s response pregame.
“He responded well, he took care of the football. That was the main point of emphasis, just take care of the football whatever you do. He read holes well, he got extra yardage, he had good contact and got YAC every time and didn’t fall backwards, he put some moves on guys on the outside with some swing passes out of the backfield. Overall he played well.”
Grieser, sounding like a seasoned vet, credited his linemen for opening holes and his coaches for putting him in the right spot.
“Just great coaching,” he said. “Our coaches are amazing. They set up a great game plan and we just came in ready to play and we brought it to them.”