KEARNEY — Grand Island’s 46-0 rout of Kearney High in last year’s football season opener proved one thing.
It’s still a rivalry.
“It’s always a fun atmosphere, a playoff-type atmosphere,” Kearney coach Brandon Cool said. “What a fantastic game to start of the high school football season in central Nebraska.”
The two teams will meet at 7 p.m. Friday at UNK’s Ron and Carol Cope Stadium at Foster Field. Kearney holds a 14-5 edge in the series since 2002, but that edge wasn’t what Cool had in mind last year. The Bearcats were on their heels from the opening kickoff. They went on to compile a 5-4 record while the Islanders finished the year in the state finals, losing to Omaha Burke to finish at 10-3.
“Grand Island had the whole package, really,” Cool said. “They had the ‘it’ factor where the ball dropped their way. They had tremendous talent, were very physical and they were well-coached. There’s a reason they were in the state finals.”
They may not have all those things this year. Starting quarterback Cole Evans and leading rusher John Reilly graduated along with most of the other front-line players.
“I don’t know if last year makes a big difference. ... Through all our years of experience playing Grand Island, last year’s game doesn’t make too big of a factor for this year’s game. Both programs have big holes to fill and a new year brings new opportunities,” Cool said.
One place the Islanders don’t have a huge hole to fill is at wide receiver where Broc Douglass is back for his senior year. He caught 53 passes last year for 907 yards and handled kickoff and punt return duties for a team-leading 1,782 all-purpose yards.
The Evans-Douglass connection gave Grand Island a nearly perfectly balanced offensive attack and Cool expects to see that Friday.
“I think Grand Island really likes this scheme. ... They have their program at a level they’re going to keep doing what they do,” he said.
Kearney will have to deal with its own graduation losses, especially in the offensive and defensive lines and at quarterback. However, the Bearcats return last year’s leading receiver, Seth Stroh, and its No. 1 running back, Miko Maessner.
Maessner was not available for much of last year’s game following a hard hit early in the contest.
Maessner recovered to finish the year with nearly 500 yards on the ground before emerging at the state track meet as the fastest man in Class A, winning both sprint races.
Getting Maessner room to run will be the key for Kearney’s offense this year and so far, Cool believes those opportunities may arise as Kearney has had an “awesome” preseason camp.
“It’s gone very well. I thought our kids came in ready to rock and roll and I’ve been pretty pleased with their effort to this point. ... Our guys are rearing and ready to go,” Cool said.