KEARNEY — Even though there are fewer players on the field, there’s just as much on the line in the six-man state football championship.
“It would mean a lot,” Harvard coach Scott Trimble said. “We haven’t been a school that has a lot of championships. … We get a lot of messages from people who were here a long time ago or not so long ago that are really excited and want us to do well.”
Harvard, which has one state championship trophy in its trophy case, will take on McCool Junction in the six-man state championship at 7 p.m. Friday at Kearney’s Ron and Carol Cope Stadium at Foster Field, and McCool Junction has just as much riding on the game.
This is the first time the Mustangs have played in the state football finals, the first time they went 8-0 in the regular season and the first time they’ve gotten past the second round of the playoffs.
“It has been a crazy last couple weeks,” coach Jarrod Weiss said. “The community has been crazy with the support they’ve given: pep rallies, meals for kids, the crowd we had at Cody last Friday. I’ve never seen a crowd that big.”
A charter bus took many McCool Junction fans on that 5½-hour journey to Cody for the semifinals to see the Mustangs take that last step to get to Friday’s showdown, which appears evenly matched. Both teams are 11-0, which includes a forfeit, and are averaging 62 points per game.
Trimble led Harvard to the final two years ago and steered Arthur County to three straight state championships in 2009-11.
“Power football was pretty much the name of the game most of the time,” he said of those teams.
Now he’s made a 180 turn, running a spread offense that goes sideline to sideline to make the defense cover the entire field.
The key elements are a “great running back and a quarterback who can make any and every throw we want him to,” Trimble said.
Senior David Reazola is the running back, averaging 120 yards per game. Senior Noah Okraska is the quarterback, completing 57 of 89 passes for 1,350 yards and 28 touchdowns.
“They’re the whole package over there. It will be a difficult task for us,” Weiss said of the Cardinals.
He said his team will have to execute flawlessly, tackle in space and recognize Harvard’s formations to have a chance at victory. And on offense, the Mustangs will need to control the ball.
“I’m hoping the longer we have the ball, that benefits us,” he said.
McCool Junction has built its success on a running game that has produced 260 yards per game. Senior Dana Hobbs is the featured back, rushing for 126 yards per game, while junior Owen McDonald picks up 88 yards per game.
Hobbs also leads the team in passing, but has attempted only 54 passes.
“They do a really good job of seeing the creases and taking them when they’re in their tight game and when in they’re in the spread, they do a great job of trying to isolate those guys one-on-one and let them beat you,” Trimble said. “If we can turn them into a passing team, that would definitely be in our favor.”
Both teams feel they’ve come close in the last two years.
McCool Junction led eventual state champion Wilcox-Hildreth, 30-2, shortly before halftime of last year’s quarterfinals. However, an injury to power runner Hunter Cole, who had scored on two of six carries, killed their momentum and the Falcons won 70-58.
“That left kind of a sour taste in our mouths. … We put the work into the summertime and our motto is to finish. We’re one step away from finishing but it’s going to be a tall task,” Weiss said.
Harvard played in the state championship two years ago, losing to Riverside, 46-38, as the Chargers won their fourth straight state title.
“We played Riverside as well as anybody played them,” Trimble said.
The Cardinals were within a touchdown and had the ball for the last possession but couldn’t complete the task.
“It wasn’t a failure. … We’re pretty excited to get back, especially for our seniors. It means a lot to them. It’s a second chance to get a win,” Trimble said.