Friday night gave Kearney Catholic coaches their first live look at their remade defense. This was a 7-3 football team a season ago, but head coach Rashawn Harvey thought defensively the Stars weren’t consistent enough stopping the run or winning in the front seven. Tweaks were made this offseason. To come out and hold your first opponent, no matter the quality, to only one score has to feel good.
“I believe it was a great collective effort,” Harvey said after the Stars wrapped a 65-6 season-opening win over Wood River-Shelton. “That was the first time we saw our adjusted defense live against an opponent rather than ourselves. I think our d-line did a great job with what we want to do. We want to slant them a lot. And then (senior linebacker) Logan O’Brien, No. 12, him coming off the edge—we brought him off the edge a lot—he pressured the quarterback. He’s rangy. He’s 6-4 and a half, 6-5, pretty speedy coming off the edge.
“Ultimately I think we tackled well tonight also. Yeah, we had a couple busted plays where they got loose, but outside of that, a great collective effort.”
O’Brien makes up part of a talented trio of linebackers for the Stars, with fellow seniors Tate Florell and Cale Conrad. He and Florell were the top two tacklers on the defense a season ago. But as a unit, the Stars defense was slightly below average at creating sacks and generating interceptions.
There was some juice right away to set a different tone for the new season.
Kearney Catholic got the ball to start and quarterback Heinrich Haarberg, a Husker commit for the 2021 class, led a five-play scoring drive to take an early lead. Then the Stars picked off Silverback quarterback Waylon Cronk on their first defensive play of the season.
They scored again five plays later.
On their next defensive possession, the Star defense pounced on a third-down snap that flew over Cronk’s head. Conrad recovered in the end zone for a score that put Kearney Catholic up 21-0 not even midway through the first quarter.
“Just an absolute hustle play,” Harvey said. “Great effort. That young man, he doesn’t talk a lot, but he gets out on the field and you know what he’s gonna do and that’s perform.”
Haarberg led five straight scoring drives on offense to begin the game while the defense limited Wood River-Shelton to a total of minus 6 yards on its first five drives.
“You can have a high-powered offense and not score a lot if they just hold the ball,” Haarberg said. “I think we’re a highly efficient offense, like you saw tonight, but I think to have that high-powered offense you have to have a high-power defense.”
The quarterback will have a spotlight squarely fixed on him moving forward, especially if the Huskers do indeed sit out this fall. But in Game 1 he didn’t have to do much to earn a win. His defense made sure of that. Haarberg threw a pretty ball on a 42-yard touchdown strike in the second quarter, but his Star teammates gave the star quarterback plenty of help. He didn’t play an offensive snap in the second half.
“Our young men understand that Heinrich’s exposure is an opportunity for them, too,” Harvey said. “They’ve embraced that. And Heinrich’s pretty humble so he’s not a kid out there that’s pushing his teammates away because of him earning a scholarship to Nebraska.”
You could tell right away guys were chomping at the bit to see the field. The defense was flying to the ball. Florell and O’Brien were exploding with energy after each tackle.
“We were just super excited to come out here and beat up on someone else,” Haarberg said. “We’ve been together for the last six months and I think we’ve kind of gotten sick of each other. We were tired of hitting each other. We didn’t have camps or anything like that, we were ready to go out and hit someone else.”
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.