KEARNEY — The defending state champs came to Foster Field with their full arsenal in store.
But Kearney High gave them as much as they could handle.
The Mustangs jumped to an early lead and then did enough defensively to stymie Kearney’s few scoring opportunities, coming away with a 19-7 win over the Bearcats Friday at Ron and Carol Cope Stadium at Foster Field.
Kearney pushed the prohibitive preseason state title favorites to the limits when running back Matt Koester broke a tackle at the line of scrimmage early in the fourth quarter and busted free for a 63-yard touchdown run.
12-7 game. One stop, and the Bearcats would have a shot to win.
But the one stop wasn’t found.
After the teams alternated three-and-out possessions, the Mustangs finally pieced together a drive. On six-straight running plays with four different rushers, Millard North powered down the field and put the game away with a six-yard touchdown run from Adrrell Taylor with just over two minutes to go.
While Millard North entered the game with a 0-3 record, it had played its last two without one of the state’s top players in quarterback Clay Fisher.
He was more than ready to go on Friday.
The 6-foot-1 senior with interest from several high-major schools opened the game with the call on eight-straight running plays, and then he scampered and clawed for 169 yards on 31 carries for the game.
“I couldn’t stand sitting on the sidelines watching,” Fisher said about the past two games. “It hurt me because I felt like I wasn’t in there helping out my team and felt absolutely fantastic to get back in to it.”
Despite the gaudy numbers from Fisher and the team’s 376 rushing yards, it was the Kearney High defense that kept the score close. While Millard North gashed the Bearcats at times, the Bearcats punched back. After Millard North jumped to a 12-0 lead midway through the second quarter, the KHS defense didn’t allow a score and gave up just six first downs over the next two quarters.
“I thought our kids played their hearts out tonight,” Kearney High coach Brandon Cool said. “And when you have to defend an offense like, for the most part, keep them corralled all night long with the exception of a couple plays, our defensive coaches and players did a tremendous job of keeping us in this football game.”
Offensively, the Kearney team missed a couple scoring opportunties, particularly early in the game. On the opening drive, it marched 78 yards on 12 plays only to come up empty after three straight incompletions turned the ball over on downs to Millard North.
“We had opportunities especially in the first quarter to move the football, and some things work and some things don’t,” Cool said. “That’s part of athletics.
You always have to make the adjustments for great football teams like Millard North, and for us to play a tough four quarters and come out behind the 8-ball a little bit is tough to swallow.”
After the opening drive, the Mustangs’ vaunted defense kept Kearney in check, save for Koester’s score. Outside of his run, Kearney had just 77 rushing yards. And Kearney High quarterback Jacob White put together a majority of his passing yards as the team hurried down the field trailing 19-7 in the final minutes. The Bearcats’ other quarterback, Peyton Pocock, was injured in the third quarter and did not return to the game.
For Millard North, it was a sigh of relief to get the victory after the winless start.
Coach Fred Petito, in his 30th season, has never coached a team with such an opening to the season.
“It was very big, even though it was not a district game and coming out, having to travel and all that, we’ll take it any way,” Petito said. “This is a hard fought victory.”
KHS (1-3) ............... 0 0 0 7—7
MN (1-3) ................. 0 12 0 7—19
MN — Clay Fisher 3 run (kick blocked), 11:30.
MN — Adrrell Taylor 17 run (run failed), 6:53.
Kearney — Matt Koester 63 run (Treygan Gowen kick), 10:47.
MN - Taylor 6 run (Jack Thompson kick), 2:02.
RUSHING — Kearney, Jacob White 15-50, Tyler Gillen 6-4, Matt Koester 3-83, Peyton Pocock 1-3. Millard North, Clay Fisher 31-169, Adrrell Taylor 11-106, Avram Tynes 5-63, Grant DeVries 4-27, Jacob Matthew 2-11.
PASSING — Kearney, Jacob White 6-14-0-86, Peyton Pocock 4-15-0-58. Millard North, Clay Fisher 0-4-0-0.
RECEIVING — Kearney, Tyler Dahlke 3-33, Tyler Gillen 3-25, David Erickson 2-31, Matt Koester 1-41, Jamieson Oertle 1-14.