Kearney DB Beau Sostad (#27,foreground) digs in to defend against the Creighton Prep offense. The Bearcats won the game 25-23 to advance to the Class A Championship game at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln. *(photo by Bobby Mills)
KEARNEY - It was the culmination of a picture perfect, final drive of a game that had everything at stake.
With just two seconds showing on the Foster Field clock, Kearney high junior Gabe Heins split the uprights for the game winning 24 yard field goal, giving the Bearcats a come from behind 25-23 win over Creighton Prep and a ticket to the 2017 Class A State Championship game.
The win over Prep, the undefeated Bearcats second in the last 30 days, sets up a date with Omaha North a week from next Tuesday at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln.
For only the second time in Kearney High football history, the Cats will be making an appearance in the Memorial Stadium Class A title game. The only other trip to the Big Game was a memorable one back in 2006, when the Bearcats crushed Omaha Westside 41-21 for all the goods.
Take away a shaky start for Kearney on their opening drive, the Bearcats looked like they had control of the football game when the first half came to a close.
Creighton Prep’s Morgan Madrigal spilled the Bearcats Matt Stute for a 7 yard loss the first play of the game, leading to a 4th and long for Kearney.
A bad snap from center forced Kanon Koster, who was back to punt, into throwing an incomplete pass. The miscue set the Junior Jays up with a short field at the Kearney 40, but Bearcats defense limited Prep to a 30 yard Noah Strako field goal.
The remainder of the opening half was a defensive clinic by the Bearcats. All Creighton Prep could squeeze out of their offense in the first two quarters was 56 rushing yards and a mere 23 yards through the air.
Meanwhile, the unbeaten Bearcats were building a 16-3 halftime lead.
Kearney’s took their first lead of the game when sensational sophomore Mike Maessner took a pitch from QB Kanon Koster, pulled up, then fired a perfect TD strike to a wide-open Isaiah Stalbird from 23 yards out.
The touchdown pass was set up by sparking runs of 9 and 14 yards by the high speed Maessner.
Kearney added a 38 yard field goal by Gabe Heins, plus a late second quarter one yard scoring plunge by Kanon Koster, to build the 16-3 halftime advantage.
I’m not sure what Creighton Prep head coach Tim Johnk said to his team at the halftime break, but it must have worked like a charm because the Junior Jays came out on fire in the 3rd quarter.
So efficient was the offensive plan, that Johnk’s troops put together a vintage Creighton Prep ground and pound 5 minutes, five second, 12 play drive. The “Tom Jaworski-like” drive culminated with punishing fullback Luke Sims crashing over Kearney defenders for a 6 yard score.
The touchdown pulled Creighton Prep to within 16-10.
Sophomore Jackson Bartling, all 165 pounds of him, was instrumental in the 80 yard drive, following his blockers for 32 of those yards on 5 carries. When Bartling wasn’t following Luke Sims into the Prep line, Sims or QB Sam Bonebrake was grinding out yardage.
After forcing Kearney to a 3 and out, the Bearcats only offensive possession of the 3rd quarter, Prep got the ball back and kept the heat on the Bearcats.
This time, the Junior Jays sent in All-State candidate Grant Matthies, a tight end, to play fullback. The move sent Luke Sims back to the RB slot and the Jays proceeded to slice through the Kearney defense again, this time for a 65 yard, 4 minute, 39 second scoring drive.
Sims again hit the end zone for a 5 yard score around left end. The clock showed all zeros when Creighton Prep took their second lead of the game, a 17-16 advantage over the Bearcats after 3 quarters.
Instead of letting the 3rd quarter Prep momentum continue, Kearney answered right back with beautiful 80 yard drive.
Miko Maessner ripped off an electrifying 38 yard gallop during the drive, wiggling out of Junior Jay defenders on his way from the Kearney 36, all the way to Creighton Prep 24 yard line.
Kanon Koster, who also ran hard on the drive, then nailed Maessner for a 16 yard gain to the Prep 9 yard line. On the very next play, Maessner slipped through a nice A-gap opening, surging in for the 9 yard score.
The Bearcats surprisingly did not go for two on the PAT, then failed on the one point conversion when Gabe Heins missed the extra point kick.
That left Kearney leading the Junior Jays 22-17 with 8:48 left in the game. It was then time for Creighton Prep to fashion another long drive, and that is exactly what they did on their ensuing possession.
The Junior Jays were already set up with decent field position at their 37, thanks to 20 kick return by Charlie Herald.
Prep then chewed up another 6:08 off the clock before Sam Bonebrake crashed in from the one yard line for the go-ahead touchdown.
Leading 23-22, the Jays went for the double PAT, but the interior of the Kearney defense stuffed Luke Sims short on the run attempt.
The Bearcats then, had one more shot with 2:42 showing on the Foster Field scoreboard clock and Creighton Prep was not about to co-operate.
Kearney’s 2017 season came down to a 4th and one for the Bearcats at their own 49. Kanon Koster, back to pass was forced out of the pocket.
With the Creighton Prep defense closing in, the veteran Koster took off, somehow escaped the grasp of two Prep defenders, to pick up the first down, before sprinting out of bounds to stop the clock.
On the very next play, with just 57 seconds left in the semifinal contest, Koster uncorked a perfect pass to a very well-covered Bret Obermiller.
The 6-1, 196 pound senior made a spectacular catch at the 14 yard line, setting up the Bearcats for the dramatic finish.
Koster then blasted to the Junior Jays 7 yard line and nearly let the clock expire, before calling timeout with just two seconds remaining
Junior Gabe Heins came on to kick a field goal from the Prep 14 yard line, but twice, the Jays tried to ice him with time-outs.
The icing technique did not work, Heins calmly booted the game winning field goal, and the rest is on the books.
Kearney’s ground attack was once again led by sophomore Miko Maessner, who ran 17 times for 140 yards and a TD. Kanon Koster added 80 yards on as many carries and another rushing score.
Koster was accurate on 6 of his 9 throws for 86 yards, while Maessner was a perfect 1 for 1 through the air with his 23 yard TD strike to Isaiah Stalbird.
Creighton Prep’s ground game was paced by junior Luke Sims, who powered his way to 148 yards on 21 touches and 2 TDs. QB Sam Bonebrake was 7 of 18 passing for the Junior Jays, for just 60 yards.
Kearney moves on to meet Omaha North in the Class A Championship game on Tuesday, November 21st at 7:00 at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln. The Vikings slipped by Omaha Burke 29-28 to gain the final.
Creighton Prep (9-3).......3……..0…….14…….6……….23
CP - Noah Strako 30 Yard Field Goal………………………....(6:44)...0-3
Kea--Isaiah Stalbird 23 pass from Miko Maessner..PAT-kick failed..(4:06)...6-3
Kea- Gabe Heins 38 Field Goal………………………….…….(1:26)...9-3
Kea - Kanon Koster 1 run……………………PAT-Heins kick.(2:58)...16-3
CP - Luke Sims 6 run………………………...PAT-Strako kick.(6:55)..16-10
CP - Luke Sims 5 run………………………...PAT-Strako kick.(0:00)..16-17
Kea- Miko Maessner 9 run…………………..PAT-kick failed...(8:48)..22-17
CP - Sam Bonebrake 1 run………………….PAT-run failed….(2:42)..22-23
Kea- Gabe Heins 24 Field Goal………………………………....(0:00)..25-23