KEARNEY — As the regular season winds down, Kearney High football had another opportunity to capture a signature win against Elkhorn South on Friday night at Foster Field but it faded away in the second half at the hands of the Storm defense.
The Bearcats fell to the Storm 21-7, dropping them to 3-5 on the season. Elkhorn South moves up 7-1 with one more game on the schedule.
The Bearcat defense was in a physical struggle against the Storm’s starting front that helped pave the way for the Elkhorn South’s 272 yards on the ground. Junior back Cole Ballard rushed for 166 yards and two touchdowns against the Bearcats. Quarterback Will Skradis added 76 more yards on the ground. The only time Elkhorn South went backward was the 12 penalties they committed.
“They are well-coached, and they are very disciplined,” Kearney coach Brandon Cool said. “They do a great job of staying with their game plan, and we did a great job on stopping them on one or two plays, and then they get away from us on three or four plays. I thought their coaching staff was staying on track with their offense.”
The Storm put up 74 yards of offense on their opening drive, which set up a 19-yard touchdown pass from Skridis to Koy Wilkis. Despite that opening drive, Kearney’s defense was able to contain the Storm and make it a low-scoring half.
Kearney missed opportunities to points on the board, including a missed field goal from James Dakan on the opening drive and dropped passes from their receiving corps. With less than five minutes in the second quarter, Kearney ran the ball effectively, led by quarterback Riley Miller, who led the Bearcats with 53 yards rushing. After a couple of big runs from Miller, Parker Wise scored a five-yard rushing touchdown to even the score at seven.
The Storm responded late in the second quarter with only six seconds left. Despite the defensive efforts by their goal line defense going against their heavy formation (“rhino package”), Ballard punched one in for a touchdown on third down with six seconds left.
“I thought we did a good job weathering the storm in the first half,” Cool said. “We moved the ball decently in the first half, and obviously, that touchdown right at the end of the half was a dagger from a momentum standpoint. We had them on second and long a couple of times, and we didn’t get it done. We had five or six drops tonight in the passing game. We can’t afford to lose any plays when you’re playing good teams like this.”
Kearney’s offense was shut out in the second half as the Storm defense provided more pressure on Miller, with four-star junior end Maverick Noonan leading the pack, finishing the night with two sacks. The Storm’s defensive front kept bringing the heat on each play that helped clinched the win in a scoreless fourth quarter.
“That kid for Elkhorn South is fantastic on the defensive line,” Cool said about Noonan. “They are athletic. They got two groups. They have a big, physical group that starts and then a quick and athletic group that comes in. They have a great mix up in their defensive line.”
With another tough loss to a top-tier team, the Bearcats must recuperate as they prepare to be back on the road to face Omaha Northwest High School in their season finale. The Bearcats are searching for their first road win and look to end their season on a positive note.
“We’ll regather the troops here this weekend, and we’ll be ready to rock and roll on Monday,” Cool said. “As of now, you have to get things going in the right direction before you get to the playoffs scenario.”