HASTINGS, Neb. — Guys were slow making it off the field Friday night. This one hurt a little more.
If you make it to the championship fight, you at least made it. You fought with the prize on the line. If you make it right to the doorstep, but you get locked out, that’s a different kind of pain.
“We’ve been there to the final in 2011 and we lost in the final,” said Kearney Catholic head coach Rashawn Harvey. “That’s a totally different feeling. In 2014, 2016 and now 2020, we’ve gotten semifinal losses, and it’s the same feel for each one of those teams that I’ve been part of—that true disappointment that you were right there to be able to play for a state championship and you just didn’t get it done.”
The Stars ended a wonderful season Friday night on the road against Adams Central one game short of the ultimate team goal. In semifinal action between the No. 4 seed in the C1 state playoffs and the No. 8, Adams Central prevailed 34-29.
“Big picture, we just didn’t play well defensively,” Harvey said. “We gave up too many big plays, and then we didn’t capitalize on some big opportunities to go out in front.”
In its previous four games combined, the Stars had allowed only 19 points. That included a run of 14 straight quarters without allowing a single point. The Stars felt they had a championship-level defense to pair with senior quarterback Heinrich Haarberg and a high-scoring offense.
But Adams Central hit early and hit often. The Patriots had 20 points after just the first quarter—and a 20-7 lead—thanks to huge chunk plays in the passing game.
The first offensive play from scrimmage for Adams Central was a 54-yard pass from quarterback Cam Foster to wideout Drew Bonifas. That led to an 8-yard touchdown pass to Tyler Slechta a few plays later. Slechta caught a 42-yard touchdown pass later in the first quarter and finished with 87 receiving yards and two scores.
His true damage was done on the other side of the ball. More on him in a moment.
Kearney Catholic came out hot to start the second quarter. Adams Central muffed a punt to start the frame and Kearney Catholic took over near midfield. Just 26 seconds into the quarter, Haarberg connected with Logan Miner over the middle of the field for a 45-yard score. Miner ran a nice post, beat his man to the inside, and Haarberg dropped it right into his arms in-stride.
On Adams Central’s next drive, Kearney Catholic thought it had a stop at midfield, but a questionable offside/false start decision went against the Stars on fourth-and-2 and prolonged the drive. The Patriots would later score, capping an 80-yard drive that spanned five minutes of clock.
With 1:41 to play in the first half, Kearney Catholic took over at the AC 30-yard-line after another muffed punt. The Stars were turned away with 46.3 seconds to play when Slechta intercepted Haarberg in the end zone.
Haarberg threw behind his intended receiver and the ball bounced off Slechta and up into the air. As he tried to reposition himself, he lost balance and fell, but the ball dropped right into his stomach while laying on the ground.
The Stars entered the halftime break down 13. But to only be down two scores after a sloppy and uncharacteristic first half? They felt like they were right there.
“We just told them it’s 0-0. You got a new half. Yeah, we made some mistakes in the first half, but as long as you win the second half, you got a great chance to win this game,” Harvey said. “I think our young men came out and responded well to that. They knew they still had an opportunity to go play for a state championship and that was their goal.”
The defense got a pair of three-and-outs on Adams Central’s first two possessions of the third quarter. Star running back Cale Conrad marched the offense down the field in-between for a score that cut the lead to six.
After the second three-and-out, Adams Central snapped a punt attempt over the punters head and Kearney Catholic tackled him in the end zone for a safety.
Slectha got one more pick off Haarberg in the third to keep the margin 27-23 headed into the fourth.
On the first play of the final frame, facing a third-and-long from its own 12-yard-line, Adams Central found running back Macrae Huyser on a wheel route for the biggest play of the night, 88 yards to the house.
Kearney Catholic had one last-gasp shot at things after cutting the lead to five and recovering a fumble on the Patriots’ ensuing possession.
They began at the opponent’s 18 needing five points. A failed two-point conversion try on the previous score meant the Stars would still need a touchdown. A fourth-and-three pick-up moved the ball to the Adams Central 8, but a holding call negated the play and put Kearney Catholic in a fourth-and-14 situation.
Haarberg’s pass fell incomplete. The Patriots held. They’ll face Pierce in the Class C1 championship game.
“I was excited about the way we battled,” Harvey said. “We got down in the game at different points and our young men never gave up. They came out, answered the bell, and responded through all the adversity in the game.”
He said the team was “devastated” in the locker room after the game. Winning the school’s first-ever state title was a goal this senior class has had for years. This was to be the year. Haarberg and Conrad and lineman Seth Moore and linebackers Logan O’Brien and Tate Floral nearly pulled it off.
That doesn’t make it easier. But, Harvey was proud of the fight and of the season either way.
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.