KEARNEY — Kearney High coach Brandon Cool reached the obvious conclusion after the Bearcats lost 23-7 to Elkhorn South in the first round of the Class A state football playoffs.
"Elkhorn South is a good football team. There’s no doubt about it," he said. "They’re physical up in the line. They’re physical at the point of attack. They’ve got good team speed. They’re well-coached. ... We got beat by a good football team."
From the opening kick, the Storm dominated the line of scrimmage, the time of possession and everything else.
Running back Eli Hustad ran for 204 yards, breaking off four runs of 12 or more yards in the first quarter. He added two more in the second quarter and watched as his backup, Ben Warren, reeled off runs of 45 and 37 yards. A 52-yard dash by Hustad late in the second quarter set up his only touchdown and gave the Storm a 20-7 lead.
When Hustad wasn’t tearing it up, quarterback Elliott Brown picked up the slack. He had a handful of the "chunk" plays as well running for 112 yards on 19 carries.
"Most times, to put together a scoring drive, you need to avoid the negative plays. You need to have those big chunk plays and we’ve got some players like Eli Hustad and some of those guys that are very capable of taking a small play and making it into a big one," Elkhorn South coach Guy Rosenberg said.
The Storm finished with 422 rushing yards. They had 297 at halftime and added to the total with a 6 1/2 minute drive to start the second half that resulted in a field goal that gave Kearney a big mountain to climb.
"They were able to control the line of scrimmage to start the football game. They were getting big chunks of yards. And then we were going three and out on offense," Cool said. "They were just able to control the ball almost the entire first one and a half quarters."
Kearney stayed within striking distance, but the clock kept ticking away, and Elkhorn South converted key third downs to keep things moving.
"The score was what, a two possession game," Cool said. "You had to stop them in the first possession (of the second half). And they made a big, big play on third down there. ... That was a back-breaker because we had them on the ropes."
Kearney struggled to get its offense going until midway through the second quarter. Will Richter supplied the spark with a 22-yard punt return that gave Kearney a short field Gabe Gilsdorf scored on a 2-yard run.
Senior running back Miko Maessner, who finished with 110 yards on 15 carries, gave Kearney one of its own "chunk" plays with a 12-yard run. He had a 14-yard run in the first quarter and a 42-yard dash in the fourth quarter, but neither helped the Bearcats get on the board.
Elkhorn South 23, Kearney 7
Score by Quarters
Elkhorn South (7-3) 14 6 3 0 — 23
Kearney (7-3) 0 7 0 0 — 7
ES — Elliott Brown 33 run (Brian Cross kick)
ES — Ben Warren 45 run (Cross kick)
KHS — Gabe Gilsdorf 2 run (James Dakan kick)
ES — Eli Hustad 2 run (kick failed)
ES — Cross 37 FG
RUSHING — ES: Eli Hustad 26-204, Elliott Brown 19-112, Ben Warren 5-83, Blaze Doxzon 4-25, Team 1-(minus 2). KHS: Miko Maessner 15-110, Colin Murray 10-28, Alex Kemp 3-12, Gabe Gilsdorf 1-2.
PASSING — ES: Elliott Brown 4-5-1, 52 yds. KHS: Colin Murray 9-21-4, 87 yds.
RECEIVING — ES: Eli Hustad 2-32, Blaze Warren 1-13, Nate Allen 1-7. KHS: Seth Stroh 5-36, Jackson Miller 2-32, Miko Maessner 1-11, Will Richter 1-8.