Kearney Catholic head coach Rashawn Harvey doesn’t much care for rematches on the football field.
Seeing someone twice in a season gives the winner of the first game a mental advantage, he thinks, because you got proof of concept the first time. Your stuff won the day.
“We were able to run the ball efficiently against them the first time, and they’re known for their run defense,” Harvey said of the Stars’ 33-22 win over Adams Central on Oct. 9. “We were able to move the ball well in that first game.”
In their first meeting, Kearney Catholic (9-1) ran wild over an Adams Central team (9-2) that hasn’t given up much on the ground this season. Senior running back Cale Conrad went for 133 yards and a score on 30 carries. Senior quarterback Heinrich Haarberg went for 134 yards and two scores on 19 carries.
The disadvantage—and the Stars will have to work through this in the Class C1 state semifinal match against the Patriots on Friday—is that the losing side has a direct line to where they were most vulnerable.
“They went back and reviewed film, as we did, and they’ll come out and make some adjustments,” Harvey said. “The question is are we going to be able to make proper adjustments and tackle well and be in the right spots and be in the right run fits to be able to have a repeat performance from the first game.”
Though the Stars are the higher-seeded team, they’ll travel for this semifinal matchup. That was always going to be the case after back-to-back home games to begin their playoff run, though they might not have expected the destination when the bracket came out weeks ago.
Adams Central, an eight-seed, took down No. 1 seed Ashland-Greenwood last Friday 35-6. The Bluejays ran for over 200 yards, but couldn’t find rhythm in the passing game and allowed the Patriots chunk play after chunk play through the air.
Cam Foster, the Patriots’ senior quarterback, went 8-for-11 throwing it for 261 yards and two scores. Senior wideout Tyler Slechta had five catches for 178 yards.
At this point in the season, Harvey doesn’t expect many surprises from the Patriots. Friday night will be good on good, and whoever can be the best version of themselves will punch a ticket to the state title game in Lincoln.
“In the game film we got from last week they beat Ashland-Greenwood with Adams Central being Adams Central, doing the things they do best,” he said. “That’s what we’ll see.
“You’ll have a wrinkle and a gadget play going into this type of game, but outside of that you’re just gonna have hard-nosed football from both sides.”
From the Kearney Catholic side, there’s a confidence that what they do right now is clicking at a very high level. The Stars beat fifth-seeded Auburn last week 21-12, and they held a 21-0 lead going into the fourth quarter.
Auburn scoring in the fourth quarter was purely academic. The Stars controlled the game with their rushing attack and defense. Conrad went over 200 yards rushing, and the defense gave up only one score. (The other touchdown was a fumble scoop-and-score. Auburn tried for two-point conversions twice and failed.)
A six-yard touchdown toss from Auburn with 8:05 to play in the fourth broke a string of 14 straight quarters in which the Star defense hadn’t given up a single point.
Holdrege grabbed a first-quarter touchdown in a 49-7 loss to Kearney Catholic on Oct. 16, and then no one scored again on the Stars until Auburn’s fourth-quarter toss.
“Defense has been phenomenal, and we’ve got to keep it up if we plan to play for a state championship,” Harvey said. “We think we’ve got the defense to get us an opportunity to play for a state title. Our young men know that we’re performing well defensively but they understand you’ve got to go out and perform well again in the next game if you want that opportunity. We understand that we’ve got a big task in front of us and that’s playing a team twice.”
To their credit, Harvey has been impressed with the attitude from his group throughout this week of practice.
“They’ve had a great attitude,” he said. “They’re like, ‘We don’t care who’s in front of us, we’re playing them and we believe in ourselves.’ That’s what you wanna see in your young men. … We even went inside one day just to keep them out of the elements, and usually when you go inside you don’t have a sharp practice, it was probably one of the sharper practices we’ve ever had.
“Our guys are engaged, they’re locked in, they’re excited about this opportunity. They know you don’t get many of these opportunities so they want to go out there and show that we deserve to be where we are.”