Let’s rewind to last Friday for a moment. Kearney Catholic is at home against Adams Central. The Stars are 4-1, while the visiting Patriots enter at 5-0. The game is back-and-forth all night, but ultimately ends with a Kearney Catholic victory, 33-22.
Deep into the fourth quarter, Kearney Catholic is down 22-19 and facing a fourth-and-one. “The 0-line wanted to run a certain play, so I said, ‘Hey, you guys want to run it, let’s run it then,’” head coach Rashawn Harvey told me this week. Quarterback Heinrich Haarberg has an RPO drawn up for him with the ball placed on the left hash at the Patriot’s 9-yard-line.
Heinrich pulled the handoff, beat a Patriot DB for the edge, and then caught a crucial block from wideout Brett Mahony on the perimeter before leaping over the goal line. Kearney Catholic 26, Adams Central 22.
The Star defense then gave the ball right back to the offense, and running back Cale Conrad put the game out of reach with an 8-yard rushing score.
About a five-minute window that tells the story of a season so far for Kearney Catholic.
The Stars controlled time of possession against a Patriot team that came in averaging upwards of 300 yards rushing each time out. They were held to just 133 yards and 13 first downs. Haarberg, a Husker commit, outgained the Patriots on the ground by himself (134 yards on 19 carries). Conrad added 133 yards of his own.
Add to that the fact Kearney Catholic lost its starting right tackle to injury in the first quarter. In came Kale Murphy, a senior starter on the defensive line, and the Star offense didn’t miss a beat. “He played lights out,” Harvey said.
The play-calling sequence that led to the fourth-and-1 score is quite illustrative in its own right. Two runs for Conrad and a short little swing pass to Mahony coming across the formation. Haarberg threw for 185 yards and completed 13 of his 19 pass attempts, but the ground game is what has proven to be a difference-maker for the Stars this year.
“I think he’s progressed our last three games,” Harvey said of the senior quarterback. “I think part of the equation is that he understands—not that he didn’t before, but I think he truly applies it now—that we’re going to take what the defense gives us. We’re not going to try to force the pass if we don’t have it. Yeah, we know you can do that, Heinrich, but we know you’re a dual-threat guy also, so we need to put pressure on the defense in two ways.
“There’s a couple run plays he’s been running pretty dang good.”
Make that three straight weeks of fewer than 25 pass attempts for the quarterback after a 45-attempt effort in the season’s only loss to St. Paul. Haarberg has a scholarship to play quarterback at Nebraska. Everyone in the state (or most everyone) knows the Stars have a quarterback capable of winning them a game should it fall on his shoulders. But Harvey has said time and again they won’t throw out the run game just because of their quarterback’s pedigree as a passer.
So it seems fitting that Haarberg is making the right decision on the ground and running it in from nine yards out to produce what was essentially the game-winner.
Now, to the task at hand: Holdrege (2-5).
Friday night will be the Stars last road trip of the regular season. After that, a home meeting with rival Cozad for the C-7 District title. This team has aspirations of not only making it to the Nebraska State Playoffs, but making it far. Two games left to secure that spot.
“I believe they know what’s in front of them, but we are reminding them don’t fall for the trap game,” Harvey said. “Just because Holdrege doesn’t have a winning record doesn’t mean they’re not gonna come out and play you. Yes, you know what’s at stake the following week, but you can’t look past a team for another team.”
A business trip. That’s how you bill it. If Kearney Catholic dispatches Holdrege, an automatic bid into the state playoffs is on the table.
“But, you can’t have a bad loss (now) because what’s at stake, more than just the record, is your seeding in the playoffs,” Harvey said. “Right now, I believe we’re a 4 or 5-seed in the points system. You have a bad loss, you go from a 4- or 5-seed hosting a game to losing it and you’re dropping to like a 13- or 14-seed and you’re on the road. So, we need to take care of business this week.”
How about a little bit of motivation to keep the attention firmly on the Dusters?
Tate Florell, a senior linebacker and the teams leading tackler on the season, drives the 40 or so minutes from Holdrege, his hometown, to Kearney Catholic for school and back every day.
“This is a big game for him,” Harvey said.
Florell has been in Harvey’s program the last two seasons. He produced 14 tackles a year ago in a 55-18 win over the Dusters. The entire defense knows he wants to go do the same again. Florell is the energizer of that group.
Find the pile and No. 9 is almost always in it. He and his side of the ball has had an equal part to play in the offense’s balance. Kearney Catholic has been in control of games almost all season. Haarberg hasn’t had to press the issue very often because his defense has been stout. They’re giving up just 12.5 a game with 13.5 sacks, 10 interceptions, and six fumbles recovered on the season.
“Going from a 40 front to a 30 front, which allowed us to get an extra athlete on the field, we thought it would be beneficial to us and after Game 1”—a 65-6 win—“we realized this looks good for our kids that we have at Kearney Catholic. This is probably the defense we need to stick with,” Harvey said. “And the kids love it. They love the packages we have with it. It allows them to put more pressure on the offensive line and they run it well.”
Holdrege averages just 14 points a game on the season, and it has been shut out three times in seven games.
Lots to play for still for the Stars.
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.