Kearney wins defensive war with Liberty North
By Steve Bubalo PrepsKC Senior Writer
Kearney head coach Greg Jones talked all week to his offense about taking care of the ball during Friday night’s showdown with Liberty North.
It was a simple message but not necessarily an easy one to execute against a stout Eagles’ defense, and despite four turnovers in a sloppy first half, Jones had another message for his team at halftime.
“We preached all week about not turning the ball over. But at halftime I told them how we had four turnovers and we were only down three,” Jones said of the 3-0 deficit the Bulldogs faced after 24 minutes of play. “Now, let’s go win.”
That message they took to heart, as they grinded out a 9-3 win that showcased two of the best defenses in the area. Neither offense finished with more than 225 yards of total offense, but it was the Bulldogs getting a fourth-quarter touchdown to take the lead for good.
For the Eagles, it was the third straight year they felt they could have just as easily been the ones walking off the field against the Bulldogs with a win, but once again they came up short.
“This game reminded me of two years ago when we played them,” Eagles head coach Ken Clemens said. “It was going to take some mistakes by to not win the game, and we made enough of those mistakes.”
It wasn’t as if Liberty North didn’t have chances to put more points on the board. Each Kearney turnover in the first half gave the Eagles possession in Bulldog territory. The best shot at a score came midway through the first quarter when Austin Oard intercepted a pass and returned it to the Kearney 8 yard line.
But two plays later, Kearney linebacker Matthew Rule read a slant route perfectly, picking off the pass to thwart the drive.
“He saved the momentum,” Jones said.
The only time Liberty North was able to capitalize was right before half when a punt bounced off a Kearney player’s helmet deep in their own territory and the Eagles recovered. On the very next play Josh Crawford kicked a 32-yard field goal before halftime for a 3-0 lead.
“It gets me excited. You can’t relax no matter what,” Kearney linebacker Cale Garrett said of the defense being put in tough spots in that first half. “We all recognize the situation. We got a huge interception down at the goal line and a couple of big sacks. If the offense isn’t stepping up then we need to create turnovers.”
And they were able to create one early in the fourth quarter, recovering a Myquan Powell fumble.
On the subsequent drive, thanks to a 30-yard pass from Johnny Weidmaier to Zack Davis that initially looked as if it would be intercepted before Davis snatched it away from a Liberty North defender, the Bulldogs marched 64 yards in eight plays for what would be the game-winning touchdown.
Reagan Frakes ran in from 2 yards out for the score and the 7-3 lead.
“At halftime, all the coaches were saying was we just had to keep doing what we were doing and it’ll bust,” Frakes said. “Their D-line was tough, so we had to try our hardest to execute and it’ll bust and it did.”
The Bulldogs got a safety when an Eagle low snap on a punt went out of the back of the end zone to finish the scoring, while the defense got two more stops after that to seal the win.
“We missed a couple of opportunities,” Clemens said. “We threw an interception that was big. We missed a go route that was open and then we fumbled when we were driving in the fourth quarter. And we had some dropped interceptions on defense.”
For the second straight week the Eagles lost standout running back Richard Richardson to an ankle injury. Clemens called Richardson the “difference-maker” for their offense, although on this night, with Richardson out, it turned out to be Garrett that was the difference maker.
“He almost single-handedly stopped our run game,” Clemens said of the Bulldog junior. “On a lot of those plays we had it blocked well and he went over and cleaned it up.”
Garrett stressed afterward it was a team effort on defense.
“We all trust each other,” he said. “None of us have success without the other 10.”
Kearney moved to 3-0 with the win and will host Raytown South next Friday night. Liberty North, now 2-1, will travel to Staley.
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