SJ Lafayette stuns Kearney

By Steve Bubalo PrepsKC Senior Writer
Posted: October 28, 2017 - 9:08 AM

St. Joseph Lafayette quarterback Diego Bernard was a handful for the Kearney defense all game long Friday night, doing damage with his arms and his legs. But in an ironic twist of fate, Bernard’s biggest play wound up being on the defensive side of the ball. 

With the score tied at 32-all late in the fourth quarter, Bernard picked off Dakota Ah-Mu’s pass and returned it untouched into the end zone from 20 yards out for what would be the game-winning score of a stunning 38-32 upset by the Fighting Irish. 

And on most night’s, Bernard wouldn’t even have been on the field at that moment.

“I took the spot of Marco Rodriguez. I had big shoes to fill,” Bernard said. “I covered the comeback and didn’t think he’d throw it to the flat. Brian Estes was about to sack him, he threw it and I saw the end zone.”

Lafayette head coach Bart Hardy said Bernard’s ability to come through when called upon epitomized his team. 

“With this team it’s next man up,” he said. 

The Fighting Irish could have been overwhelmed by the moment in the early going, on the road against the No. 4 team in Class 4. They found themselves down 14-0 midway through the first quarter and then down 21-6 by quarter’s end. They fought back to take a 26-24 lead before getting behind again, this time 32-26 late in the third quarter. 

“This team has a lot of perseverance,” Hardy said. “They did a great job making plays on both sides of the ball. It wasn’t just one guy. It was everybody.”

Lafayette nearly tied the game on its first drive of the final quarter, driving to the Kearney 10-yard line before the drive stalled. But the defense forced a three-and-out, and Bernard took advantage. 

Facing a fourth-and-1, Bernard took off on a designed run up the middle and sprinted 31 yards for the game-tying score. The missed point-after made it 32-all. 

“The guard said he was going to chip the nose guard and go to the linebacker,” Bernard said. “He pancaked him and that gave me a lane.”

Bernard also scored on a 44-yard run before halftime, although that one was a pass play that broke down forcing him to take off. His ability to burn the Bulldogs with his legs was an x-factor throughout the game. 

“He’s a handful. He’s a special kid and a helluva an athlete,” Kearney head coach Josh Gray said. “If you pressure him too much he gets to running around and the edge guys lose contain and his speed overcomes.”

Despite the game-tying run from Bernard, Kearney still looked as though it would take the lead on its next drive. They drove to the Fighting Irish 11-yard line but the drive ended when Marcain Kimbrough-Ballard intercepted a pass in the end zone. 

“Big plays. That was the difference,” Hardy said. “The defense would bend but not break tonight. When we needed a play we got it.”

Hardy wasn’t the only coach that saw it that way. 

“Big plays and turnovers were the key in clutch situations,” Gray said. 

Lafayette was unable to capitalize on Kimbrough-Ballard’s interception despite getting the ball near midfield, as they were forced to punt. But the subsequent Kearney drive was when Bernard would make his final mark on the game. In all, the senior had a hand in every touchdown for the Fighting Irish, throwing for two and running for three to go along with his interception return. 

It ended what had been another strong Kearney season, as they finished 8-3.

“In football it’s not just one play,” Gray said. “We came out strong, and I don’t think we relaxed, I just think the big plays killed us on defense. With the athletes they have we just weren’t able to make the stops we needed to on defense. … We’ll bounce back as a program. The seniors had a great year. I love them. They’re a special group.”

For the Fighting Irish, they live to fight another day after one of the bigger wins for the program in recent memory. They’re now 9-2 and will face Platte County next Friday. 

“We always get here and fall short,” Bernard said. “This year we just had more fight. We did it.”