Kearney blanks Liberty North

By Andy Meyer PrepsKC staff writer
Posted: September 17, 2016 - 12:07 AM

In a fierce rivalry defined by thrilling finishes, Kearney made sure there wouldn’t be any late-game dramatics this time around.

The Bulldogs imposed their will from the get-go during a 30-0 victory against Liberty North on Friday night at William Jewell College, improving to 5-0 in the process.

The previous four meetings between the schools all came down to the fourth quarter, but Kearney flexed its muscle in a physical contest and prevailed in a matchup between state-ranked squads.

“We felt like defensively we had a really good game plan going in against them,” Kearney coach Greg Jones said. “We knew the strength of their team was their defense, and we felt like we just needed to get enough and hold onto it.”

Kearney entered the game ranked No. 1 in Class 4, while Liberty North (2-3) maintained its 8th-place ranking in the Class 5 state poll.

Scoring on its second drive certainly helped the Bulldogs’ cause, but it was fitting that a defensive play really energized them.

A picture-perfect punt pinned Liberty North inside its own 1-yard line, and Kearney took advantage by forcing a fumble near the goal line. Senior Ethan Luft, who recovered the fumble to seal Kearney’s state championship win last year, pounced on the loose ball for a touchdown, giving his squad a two-score lead less than a minute into the second quarter.

“It was super-huge obviously,” Luft said. “We weren’t up by that much. It was a huge momentum shift, and a huge way to get the swings going in our direction.

“Little plays like that make a huge difference in the ball game.”

Despite the deficit, the Eagles dug in and stayed within striking distance because of a strong defensive effort. Liberty North forced the Bulldogs to punt seven times, recorded three sacks and came up with an interception.

On seven drives, Kearney started inside Liberty North territory, and a strong defensive effort by the Eagles kept them in the game until the final stages.

“I’m more encouraged by our team after this than I was before this,” Liberty North coach Ken Clemens said. “... We’re winning almost all of the physical battles out there, one-on-one, but we’re just not taking care of the ball.”

Still, Kearney continued applying pressure, and the squad’s relentless style of play allowed them to pull away down the stretch.

Senior quarterback Anthony Pritzel scored on two short touchdown runs in the second half, and he finished with a game-high 67 yards on 16 carries. He also threw for 87 yards and a scoring strike to Cody Blodgett.

Kearney posted a shutout for the second week in a row and turned in a stellar defensive effort that resulted in three takeaways and a slew of sacks.

“We got all the momentum on our side then, and they were never able to get it back,” Jones said. “When they get confidence, then it just builds.”

Defeating Liberty North also provided some vindication of sorts for the Bulldogs, whose only loss last year came against their geographic rivals. After falling to the Eagles in Week 3 of last year, Kearney didn’t lose another game during its state title run and is currently in the midst of a 17-game win streak.

Luft praised the entire team for putting together such a complete performance and believes the victory is another huge step forward for the defending state champs.

“It’s always good to have a goose egg on the board,” Luft said. “With a team like Liberty North, it’s a huge boost in confidence for us as team.

“It shows other teams what we’re made of, and we mean business.”