KEARNEY — Shortly before Kearney Catholic’s Friday night under the lights got underway, someone on the sideline joked with me that I’d only written one piece so far about the defense. “Offense is all that matters?” they asked with a chuckle.
Fair. Even if the Stars’ quarterback has the game of his life and throws for 500 yards (he didn’t, but he did have four touchdowns), I wouldn’t mention his name. This would be about the defense.
In a 38-14 win over Broken Bow, a result that saw Kearney Catholic move to 4-1 on the season, it was all about the defense.
The Stars scored on their opening possession, marching right down the field. Broken Bow—a dive-option offense—was likely hoping to keep the possessions down, control the clock, and keep the unit averaging nearly 40 points a game on the sideline as long as possible.
The Stars defense punched Broken Bow off the field with stuffs on third-and-1 and then fourth-and-1. Kearney Catholic scored two plays later and all the momentum belonged to the home side.
Credit Broken Bow for responding early. It went three-and-out on the next possession but tightened the screws a little defensively and forced a Stars punt from right around midfield.
On third-and-4 of the ensuing possession, Broken Bow’s quarterback pulled the ball out of his halfback’s gut and fooled the entire Star defense. Sixty-five yards and a well-executed two-point conversion later it was a game again and momentum had suddenly been wrestled away for the other sideline.
Kearney Catholic fumbled it on the first play of its next possession and Broken Bow marched back down the field to knot things at 14.
“We’ve been practicing all week on them wanting to run dive-option football,” Jesse Spangler, a defensive assistant coach told me. “We kept telling our outside linebackers, ‘You can’t bite on that dive.’ Then, boom, first quarter, first couple drives here we bite on the dive and then here goes the quarterback out on the outside.”
From that point on, though, it was slim pickens’ for the visitors.
On 27 plays to close out the game—about two and a half quarters—Broken Bow got just 3.6 yards a play. Third-and-7? Nothing. Fourth-and-2? One. Third-and-4? Backwards. Fourth-and-3? Nothing. Third-and-6? Only two.
“That was just our guys manning up and playing big-man football,” Spangler said. “It finally got to a point there where they were just pushing us and pushing us and when a team decides they’re going to go for it on fourth-and-3, fourth-and-4, fourth-and-5, and say they can run the ball up the gut… Our guys are tired of being called small. They’re tired of people thinking they can push them around all the time. A team comes out here and tries to do that on us, we’re going to buck up a little bit and take it to them.”
Head coach Rashawn Harvey has told me this is not an offensive outfit that wants to throw the ball all over the yard because it has a talented quarterback. They want to be balanced.
Well, this isn’t a football team with just a talented offense. In all four of its wins so far, Kearney Catholic’s defense has provided spark plays at a commensurate rate. In those four wins, the defense is yielding just five points a game, with two shutouts. They’re ball-hawking, opportunistic, and hungry.
“Everybody played assignment football in the second half,” Harvey said. “Those scores we gave up early were based on guys not doing their job. They had their eyes in different places, we didn’t have good eye discipline, so that was the cause of that in the first half.”
In prepping for option offenses, the Stars run team defense without a football. The goal is to harp on eye discipline.
“If you’ve got the quarterback, you take the quarterback. If you’ve got the dive, you take the dive. If you’ve got the pitch, you take the pitch,” Harvey says. “It’s a difficult thing because kids just wanna fly around when they see things happen, but if you don’t have good eye discipline against the option, you’ll get in trouble.”
The game began with Broken Bow doing something different on the offensive line from what the Stars coaches had anticipated. They were pinching everyone down. It took a few drives to get bearings defensively.
At halftime, the kids told the coaches what they were seeing. The outside ‘backers were unleashed on a number of blitz packages in the second half, and Kearney Catholic created a rather firm grip on the game as a result.
“Speed kills, you hear it all the time,” Spangler said. “And let’s be honest, we’re not a huge team, but we’ve got a lot of fight in us. We’re fast, and it’s hard for those up-front guys to stick with our slants and our blitzes and our twists.”
Cale Conrad was back on the field after a one-game absence. He made whole a linebacking unit that’s the strength of the Stars defense. Combined with Logan O’Brien and Tate Florell, as well as junior defensive lineman Dylan Merz, the Stars controlled things for nearly the entire second half.
Harvey was straightforward in his appreciation for the effort: “The kids executed well.”
When that happens, the head ball coach is happy. The quarterback doesn’t need to be mentioned. The defense can be the star of the show. The main story.
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.