HOLDREGE — Kearney Catholic was the better team. It knew it was the better team. Sometimes, that’s enough to spell trouble.
“The bus ride over was a little drier than what I thought it should be,” said senior quarterback Heinrich Haarberg. “The bus rides, usually there’s a buzz.” But this Friday was a weird day. Some guys didn’t have class at all. Everyone else was done at 11 a.m. thanks to the softball team’s trip to the state title match.
Then there was the opponent. The 2-5 Dusters stood in the way of a final week clash with Cozad for the C1-7 District title. Don’t fall for the trap game, head coach Rashawn Harvey preached all week.
“We tried to get something into this game that wasn’t there,” Haarberg said. “It’s hard to get excited for some of these games sometimes, but I think we brought our own excitement tonight.”
Sure seemed like it. Haarberg opened the scoring with a 67-yard touchdown run down the right sideline, complete with a stiff-armed defender. On the Stars’ next offensive touch, senior running back Cale Conrad raced 42 yards for one of his four touchdowns on the evening.
The Stars were up 21-0 with 4:37 still to play in the first quarter.
In the end, Kearney Catholic rolled to a 49-7 win. Conrad ran wild as the Stars piled up nearly 400 rushing yards on the Duster defense. Haarberg was efficient throwing it, with 12 completions on 19 attempts and a 74-yard touchdown strike to wideout Austin Christner.
“They overcame the circumstances, handled it well, turned it into a business trip, and we got the win,” Harvey said.
Harvey dialed up some tempo in the second half. The coaching staff believes the team is better when it’s operating at a fast pace. But, with a 35-7 lead already, he told his starters at the intermission they’d only see two series in the final two quarters; he wanted them to make the most of it.
“We weren’t moving at our pace we could move at,” he said. "Guys were just kind of walking around getting to their spots, so that’s something we’ve got to work on.”
One guy who was most certainly not just going through the motions was Conrad. The running back, typically a bruiser who seeks out contact, feasted on a smaller and slower Duster defense. He broke tackle after tackle, fought his way to the sidelines on runs, and then worked his way back across the middle of the field with tremendous vision.
Chunk plays early certainly helped inject some juice into the game.
“Logan O’Brien, I throw a 2-yard hitch because there’s a blitz coming and he turns it into a 12-yard gain,” Haarberg said. “When everyone on your team is more physical than the other side, it just brings and extra element of excitement.”
Kearney Catholic was able to get second- and third-string guys into the game. The starters were able to rest in the second half. A little bit of extra time before hosting Cozad in a week.
The Stars will be playing for the district title, as well as a top-four seed in the Nebraska State Playoffs and home-field.
“In practice we’ve just got to be focused and get ready for a team that’s going to ground and pound,” Harvey said. “We know Cozad very well. They know us. Their staff and our staff, we hang out at clinics, we’re good friends, we have a Kearney Catholic football alum that’s on the coaching staff there so all these guys still know him.
“We’ll mention the stakes. They know. We’re going to be honest with them. With everything that’s posted, by the time we get to Thursday everyone will have it all figured out (what happens) if we win or if we lose. We can’t stop them from looking at it. They’re going to be all over social media looking at it. They’re going to go to the NSAA site. So they’re going to know what’s at stake, so we’re just gonna play.
“This is life. Football’s not about just football. In life, things are at stake every day. … When you come to that game Friday night, things are at stake. Either you win or you lose, and you’ve got to know where the chips lay.”
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.