WOOD RIVER — Kearney Catholic began its 2020 season Friday night on the road against the newly formed Wood River-Shelton Silverbacks, and it did so with a bang. The Stars left with a 65-6 win.
Some thoughts from the game:
Not quite a test, but teachable moments nonetheless
Last season, Wood River competed in C2 while Shelton played in D1. They went 4-5 and 1-7, respectively, and formed a co-op ahead of the new campaign. The Silverbacks, the new team name. As to be expected, the group was a class below Kearney Catholic.
The game began with back-to-back five-play scoring drives from the Stars and back-to-back turnovers for Wood River-Shelton. The Silverbacks, without their starting quarterback and turning to a freshman wideout as the replacement, threw an interception on the first offensive play of their day, and saw a third-down snap sail over the quarterback’s head, only to be recovered by KC senior running back and linebacker Cale Conrad in the end zone to end the second drive.
It was 28-0 with time still on the board in the first quarter and it was 52-0 at halftime. The second half saw a running clock.
On Kearney Catholic’s visitor sideline, there were 52 suited up to play. On the home sideline, Wood River-Shelton had just 37. Husker offensive line coach Greg Austin has nearly as many players in his room as the Silverback coaching staff had to work with Friday night. And this was a new team feeling the effects of the coronavirus, practice time was limited; before the game, coaches told the Stars if they were gonna blitz, they were gonna show it.
The Stars scored every time they had the ball in the first half. Backups and freshmen took over in the second half as the starters rested. Guys got playing time they might not get moving forward. This is a talented team with dudes at key positions.
There were a couple of busts in the second half defensively, one leading to a long catch-and-run for the Silverbacks’ only score of the evening. There were a handful of procedural penalties throughout. One Star saw his night end prematurely after a hit and subsequent unsportsmanlike penalty late in the fourth quarter got him tossed from the game. Head coach Rashawn Harvey used those moments as the focus points after.
Kearney Catholic played a team it was better than. Offensively, it handled its business rather methodically in the first half, but it was not a perfect game.
A good starting point with room to build.
Heinrich Haarberg managed things nicely
For all intents and purposes, the senior quarterback’s night ended at halftime. Haarberg (6-foot-6, 200 pounds) held for point-after attempts after the break, but junior two-way athlete Brett Mahony replaced him behind center for the second half.
He missed just one pass attempt, going for 174 yards and four scores through the air. He added a fifth touchdown on the ground. Early on the Husker commit didn’t have to do much to move the ball; Kearney Catholic dialed up swing passes, screens, and quick-hitters to the flats and let its athletes run in space. (Sound familiar?) Haarberg put the ball on the money just about every time and let his guys work.
He uncorked a 42-yarder in the second quarter, hitting a corner route for a score against man coverage. It was a pretty throw, on time and right where it needed to be.
As he came off the field after each drive, he went straight to his head coach and told him what he was seeing. His coach wants Haarberg to verbalize the “why?” Even after correct reads, come over and explain why you did what you did. “They came out playing one-free and some zero and that’s not what we expected from them tonight,” Harvey told me after. And Haarberg still diagnosed where he needed to go with the ball every time.
He did have one blemish—a 12-yard sack—but he made up for it with a punt coverage tackle he was particularly proud of. Haarberg plays all three phases for the Stars, as a corner on defense, as well as a return man and coverage guy on special teams. He came running off the field in the first half wanting everyone to know he was in on a tackle. “I got a pancake on that one,” he said. “We get pancake stickers on our helmets, so I was excited for my pancake sticker.”
If he goes many more weeks without having to play in the second half, Haarberg’s numbers will be somewhat depressed, but make no mistake, he looks the real deal. The Stars will have eyeballs this season—four different media outlets were at their opener—because of his pedigree and he looked every bit deserving of it to open his senior season. Poised even as the play breaks down, unafraid to lower a shoulder into a defender, and able to throw a ball on a rope when he needs to let one fly.
Curious if his future head coach will be pleased with the performance or ask him to take it easy on his old high school next time. (Scott Frost was not there, though some asked if he might be. The recruiting dead period prohibits him from attending.)
It was good to be back to football
As the third quarter got rolling, I took a seat on the track behind the south end zone, kicked my feet out and just tried to take things in for a moment. After everything this summer, here was something good, something normal. A 90-degree day made way for a cool fall air right as Friday night’s game kicked off and that felt right. Against a cornfield backdrop in small-town Nebraska, there was football.
Kearney Catholic fans set up their own lawn chairs on the visitor sideline. Wood River-Shelton fans filled the westside stands and stayed through to the end, erupting as the Silverbacks found the scoreboard late.
Marty Brown, a Grand Island industrial worker born and raised in Wood River, volunteers with the chain gang for his local high school’s football games. Anything to help out, and anything to be around football.
In the second quarter, he caught a KC point-after attempt through the uprights in the south end zone and promptly heard some guff from his partner as he brought it back toward the sideline. The man handling the north end had come close to catching a few in the first quarter but couldn’t quite haul them in. Following Brown’s catch, he heard “You’re making me look bad,” as he walked back over.
He told me a story from a previous season of the same man getting hit with a ball square in his chest. It knocked him over, sent both feet into the air, and left a bruise. The group gave him a hard time about that, Brown said with a laugh. This was in the second half and Wood River-Shelton was trailing 58-0 at that point. Players on the losing side weren’t happy, but there was a sense of relief from nearly everyone on the field Friday night to, you know, be on the field again.
Harvey said he checked his phone every couple of hours leading up to the game, waiting for some email or text to come in saying it had been canceled or postponed. Kearney Catholic has only had one positive case since fall camp started. He’s asked his team to wear a mask and do it responsibly.
Haarberg, along with several others, wore a face covering even while playing. “Pain with a purpose,” is the team motto. This was their purpose. Getting to Friday night. Things will have to continue through the end of October, but this was a good and needed start.
There’s talent here
I’ll be with Kearney Catholic moving forward. Eight games remain on the schedule, running through Oct. 23. I plan to have coverage from all of them. I’ll be at mid-week practices, too. Haarberg will draw the headlines, and he’ll be the key piece for Husker fans, but there’s talent on this Stars team worth exploring.
Kearney Catholic has a 6-foot-5, 190-pound outside linebacker and wide receiver in Logan O’Brien who looks poised for a potentially special senior year. He’s an athletic freak—with perhaps a basketball future—who coaches raved about before the game. He showed up around the ball often.
There’s also senior wideout Logan Miner, a 5-foot-9 athlete with speed to burn. If Haarberg has a special senior season, it’ll be throwing to a senior trio of O’Brien, Miner and David Samson. Miner and Samson also both start defensively at corner.
Cale Conrad (5-foot-10, 185 pounds) starts both ways as well, running back and linebacker. Against the Silverbacks, he had a rushing score to go with two fumble recoveries. On the offensive line, Kearney Catholic also has another Husker tie. Walk-on quarterback Matt Masker’s brother, Jake, is starting as a junior for the Stars.
Offensively, this is an old group with a number of weapons and an über-talented guy pulling the strings.
Defensively, there are some really intriguing linebackers. Tate Florell, a 6-foot-2, 190-pound senior, got high marks from his coaches before the game and then showed out during it. He’s a high energy guy who was all over the field.
Plenty of stories here to tell.
The Stars have their home opener next Friday, Sept. 4, against Gothenburg. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. CT.
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.