KEARNEY — With the football season winding down and their toughest opponents behind them, the Kearney High Bearcats have one task.
Don’t wander off the path.
Not a problem, according to coach Brandon Cool.
“We’re in the driver’s seat to win the district championship. At this point, that’s been a great motivator for us,” he said. “The key part is you have to take it one step at a time. We want to keep everything going on all cylinders as we come to the end of the regular season.”
Kearney, 5-2 overall and 2-0 in the district, plays host to Lincoln High (1-6, 1-1) at 7 p.m. Friday at Ron and Carol Cope Stadium at Foster Field.
Here are three key elements to the game:
Not last year’s team
The Bearcats are coming off a victory over Lincoln Southwest, the only other team in the district with more than two wins. Lincoln High is coming off its only win this year, a 55-0 romp over Omaha Benson. It was the first game the Links scored more than 10 points.
That’s a sharp contrast from last year when Lincoln High finished the regular season on a seven-game win streak and rolled over the Bearcats 66-31.
“They were so senior-dominated last year that they have just a whole lot of new faces,” Cool said.
But the Links still can cause nightmares. Cool said his biggest fear is “letting a couple of their skill guys get away from us because they have enough foot speed to get to the end zone.”
The Links also have an abundance of size.
“It’s going to be one of the biggest teams we have faced this year. They have a couple offensive linemen that are 280-300 pounds. They have a couple defensive tackles that are the same. ... That’s a disadvantage to our personnel,” Cool said.
The Links’ game plan will be to put that size to use and try to grind it out and keep Kearney’s offense on the sideline, because Kearney’s offense is rushing for 212 yards per game and passing for another 103.
“Anytime you go against size like that, you’re going to have to work the perimeter game,” Cool said.
The perimeter game is where speedster Miko Maessner can find success. Maessner has rushed for 858 yards this season and 11 touchdowns.
Consistency. special teams
Maessner scored both of Kearney’s touchdowns last week on a pair of runs averaging 70 yards in length. But by halftime, Kearney had run only 18 plays from scrimmage. The Bearcats controlled the ball much better the second half but couldn’t find the end zone.
“We have to be more consistent on offense ... and the biggest thing is to continue to make some gains on special teams. We haven’t been able to return the ball very well lately, and we still want to be fantastic in our coverage,” Cool said.
The other issue is turnovers. Winning the turnover battle hasn’t been a sure bet for the Bearcats.
No looking ahead
While the Bearcats appear to be rocketing into the playoffs, Cool said he’s keeping the team’s focus directly on the Links. That focus needs reinforced because Friday’s game is the last home game of the season and Parents Night.
And with the myriad possibilities that arise in the playoff point system, Cool said he hasn’t started looking ahead.
“There are going to be a lot of things happen this Friday that will iron some things out as far as a playoff perspective,” he said. “Then there will be a couple extra upsets the last week of th regular season that will really screw up the playoff brackets. I’ll probably spend a little more time looking at the playoff points Saturday or Sunday.”