Average starting field position for the Chadron Cardinals: their own 22-yard-line.
And for the Kearney Catholic Stars? They began drives, on average, at their 46-yard-line.
That was the story of the game. Kearney Catholic (8-1) was in plus situations all night long and Chadron (6-3) wasn’t. The fourth-seeded Stars were able to play free and loose in their state playoff opener and the 13-seed Cardinals couldn’t. Complementary football was on full display in a 41-0 Stars win.
“When we start fast, we play well,” head coach Rashawn Harvey said after the game.
And the Stars started off lightning fast. The defense forced three-and-outs on each of Chadron’s first four possessions.
On the offense’s opening possession, the Stars began with a 12-yard run from tailback Cale Conrad, then an 11-yard completion from quarterback Heinrich Haarberg to wideout Austin Christner, and then Haarberg ran it in for the score from 32 yards away.
The Stars had a 21-0 lead at the half, and the first-teamers would have their day called before the end of the third quarter.
“Field position makes it 10 times easier to score,” Haarberg said. With three drives beginning in plus territory, Kearney Catholic’s playbook was wide open often. The Stars also did a tremendous job of staying ahead of schedule on first. “We know we have the kicker (senior Spencer Hogeland), so we already have the ability to score from right there, so we can take shots if we want to.”
Defensively, the Stars were lights out. They haven’t given up a point in their last 11 quarters of football.
Before the second-team guys took the field, Chadron had less than 70 yards of total offense. The Cardinals mounted a drive late in the second quarter that went deep into Star territory, but junior safety/wideout Brett Mahony ended it with the first of his two interceptions on the evening.
On Chadron’s first possession of the second half, senior linebacker Logan O’Brien came screaming off the edge to get a hand on a Chadron pass, knocking it right into the arms of d-lineman Seth Moore for another pick.
Mahony ended the very next drive with his second interception.
“He played well at safety,” Harvey said of Mahony. “We coached them up all week that we thought No. 15 (Chadron quarterback Justus Alcorn) was pretty good throwing the ball. On film they like to throw the deep route, but our DBs did a great job of getting in their backpedal and not letting anybody get deeper than them. We were worried about that coming into the game. Because we play so many run-heavy teams, our safeties like to be up in the mix, but they did a great job of getting coached up, listening, and being disciplined tonight.”
In total, the Stars recovered one fumble and picked off Chadron four times.
“If you can win that turnover battle, man, that’s huge,” Harvey said.
The defense does its job to prevent drives, the offense gets good field position to work with. The offense scores, the defense can play with a little more reckless abandon knowing they have some cushion. The opponent gets down, suddenly that offense becomes a little more one-dimensional.
“They’ve got to be a little more conservative, especially in the playoff system when you’re one-and-done,” Harvey said. “We expected them to run more gadget plays. Every film we had, they showed at least three gadget plays a game. But, I think we had them pinned so much, they weren’t comfortable doing that during the game.”
Kearney Catholic will host fifth-seeded Auburn next Friday at 6 p.m. CT in second-round action. The Bulldogs (8-1) beat 12-seed Battle Creek 37-15 in their opening-round matchup. The two didn’t play this season and have no common opponents.
But Kearney Catholic has confidence at an all-time high right now.
The Stars have won six straight since that 33-7 loss to St. Paul on Sept. 11. They’ve outscored their last three opponents 121-7.
“We’ve improved so much since St. Paul,” Haarberg said. “We’ve come a long way since then.”