KEARNEY — It’s back on the bus and back on the road for the Kearney High Bearcats football team.
This Friday’s destination is Norfolk, a place where the Bearcats have enjoyed more than their share of success in recent years, but KHS coach Brandon Cool warns, “every year is different and Norfolk is a tough place to play.”
Here are three things to keep an ey on in Friday’s game:
Ifs and buts
Kearney enters the 7 p.m. game with a 1-1 record and is coming off a 47-0 win over Lincoln North Star. Norfolk is 0-2.
“Norfolk is four or five plays away from maybe being 2-0. They had a tough overtime loss against Columbus and they had a couple things go against them in the Elkhorn game,” Cool said.
The result is two losses by a total of 12 points.
Kearney easily could be 2-0 as well, losing the season opener by one point to Grand Island in a game where Kearney led by 10 in the fourth quarter and had the opportunity to regain the lead in the final minute.
“I like the dynamics of our football team,” Cool said. “We are starting gel together. We’re not quite there yet, but we knew we were going to have some growing pains as we develop this inexperienced group in the offensive and defensive lines.
“In fact it has probably exceeded our expectations the first two weeks but we have to get better because the competition is going to get more important as the season goes on.”
Finding their identity
The Bearcats have forged a solid running game led by senior running back Miko Maessner, who is averaging 128 yards per game. The running game, which has piled up nearly 500 yards in the first two games, has allowed the passing game to grow slowly.
The Bearcats have completed only 12 passes in the first two games, but seven of those have landed in the hands of senior Seth Stroh, who has 213 receiving yards and four touchdown catches.
Cool said the Bearcats’ biggest improvement from the first game to the second came in the aggressive play of the offensive and defensive lines.
“We have a long way to go yet, but to see that was really encouraging watching both of those units gel together, That was pretty positive to see” he said.
Cool also liked the improved play of the Bearcats special team units. That standard of play will be important this week.
“I like how they operate. They play with a lot of aggressiveness on defense. They have one of the best special teams programs in the state,” he said of the Panthers. “Offensively they’re going to give you a lot of different looks where if you gang up on one thing they’re going to do something else. We have to control the line of scrimmage and take care of business on their screen game.”
Turnovers are forever a key to a football team’s success and that’s one area of concern for Cool.
“We have to do a better job of taking care of the football. We’ve lost the turnover battle two weeks in a row,” Cool said. “When you get on the road or you start playing great competition like Norfolk, you cannot give them opportunities or give them momentum especially at their house.”