Liberty North turns the tables on Kearney

By Bill Knust PrepsKC staff writer
Posted: September 5, 2015 - 12:49 AM

Water and footballs flew in the air, and pandemonium reigned supreme, as the clock ticked 00:00 on Friday night at Kearney High School. After blowing fourth-quarter leads the last three years, Liberty North came away with its first-ever victory against Kearney, 21-10.

The Eagles scored the game’s final 21 points over the last three quarters, sealing the victory on safety Mitchell Miller’s 30-yard interception return with 1 minute, 35 seconds remaining in the game.

“It feels good to win any game, but it is an honor to come out on top of a game like this,” Liberty North coach Ken Clemens said. “I feel like there might have been a little emotional part to (us scoring the last 21 points). We had some mojo going, and they didn’t. Sometimes that looks like fatigue.”

Trailing 14-10, Kearney took over at its own 2-yard-line with 4:09 to play. The Bulldogs converted one third down, but Miller was there to seal the deal on the second one. He said his eyes got wide as he saw the ball come his way from Kearney’s backup quarterback Ethan Irsik.

“We’ve been watching that play on film so many times,” Miller said. “They run a clear out on the outside and bring the fullback out. I just read it and made a play.”

Kearney lost starting quarterback Logan Hinck on its opening possession to a left-knee injury. That left Irsik at the helm the rest of the contest, and the Bulldogs’ offense had trouble finding its rhythm all night.

“Unfortunately, it all falls on me because you are only as good as your backups,” Kearney coach Greg Jones said. “I need to put him in more situations where he is getting those type of reps. We didn’t execute well. A lot of our offense is centered around Logan. This whole package here is for Logan. Without him, it went out the window. I’m not going to make excuses. We turned the ball over three times. One of them was a pick-six.”

For the Eagles, the first quarter and a half looked like a hangover from last week’s defeat to Blue Springs South. But, Clemens made the call to go to quarterback Michael Wansing, replacing Miller, and Liberty North finally started clicking.

Wansing found Jack Degarmo for 48 yards on a post route to put the Eagles in business at Kearney’s 20. A few plays later Wansing hit receiver Matt Long on a slant route from 10 yards out to cut the lead to 10-7.

Kearney received the second-half kickoff, but the turnover bug bit on a high shotgun snap, and Long again found himself in the right place, recovering the fumble to set Liberty North up at Kearney’s 26-yard-line.

A defensive holding on third and eight, and a pass interference in the end zone on fourth and six kept the drive alive for the Eagles. Devon Davis punched it in from 4 yards out to give Liberty North the 14-10 lead.

“They did an awesome job,” Wansing said of his offense. “They buckled down and knew what they needed to do. They made big plays when we needed them. They were good.”

Clemens said he was proud of his entire team, especially Wansing and Miller.

“We’ve always known Wansing is a gamer,” Clemens said. “He’s not as good as (Miller) in practice, but we’ve always known he’s a gamer, and we’ve kept him ready. Those two are the two players of the game. Wansing came in and did great a quarterback and Miller had the pick-six.”

Kearney’s lone touchdown came on a slip screen in the first quarter. Irsik found receiver Jess Davis on a nice-play call, and Davis found nothing but his blockers, and green turf, in front of him as he scampered 64 yards for the score.

With state-ranked Staley on tap for next week, Clemens is hoping this win is a launching pad for his squad.

“Hopefully what this means is that they can see we can line up and play against anybody,” Clemens said. “Certainly, we can play better than we did the last two weeks.”

Meanwhile, Jones said his team has some soul searching to do.

“In times like this your true character shows up,” Jones said. “We cracked. The saying is, pressure makes diamonds or bursts pipes. We cracked. It busted our pipes.”