To have a chance to upset Kearney, Norfolk needed to play a nearly perfect game.
But that didn’t happen
Instead, behind three first-half rushing touchdowns by the Bearcats’ Miko Maessner, who totaled 133 yards on 18 carries — with just two rushes and 15 yards in the second half — Kearney pulled away to a 24-0 lead at intermission en route to a 38-0 shutout of the winless Panthers (0-3).
“We’ve got some really good kids that are working hard and trying to be good, but with a team like (Kearney), the margin of error is very minimal — especially offensively,” Norfolk coach Tom Olson said. “We had some schemes in place that I thought were really good but, for us, we’re not going to make a big 35-yard play, so it’s hard to go 80 yards without one play, a wrong route or something happening.”
The Panthers responded to Maessner’s initial touchdown, a 13-yard run on Kearney’s opening possession, with an 11-play drive that stalled at the Bearcats’ 25. Kearney promptly marched 73 yards to open the second quarter with a 14-0 lead on a Maessner -yard score.
A pair of interceptions of Norfolk quarterback Jace Monday on the Panthers’ last two drives of the half led to 10 points for the Bearcats — a 1-yard run by Maessner and a 32-yard field goal by James Dakan.
“Our offensive linemen played better than I thought they would. They did a really nice job at times,” Olson said. “Tonight, I thought the offensive line took care of their business, and I thought our running back, Tanner Thompson. ran really well, but we struggled in the passing game.”
Monday completed 10 of 15 passes in the first half for 82 yards but was 0-3 in the second half with a third interception.
“We ran six plays in the third quarter — three-and-out and three-and-out,” Olson said. “I thought Jace was inconsistent. We struggled in the passing game, whereas last week we passed the ball efficiently but couldn’t run the ball very well.”
Baden Luna, Gage Dohren and Thompson each recorded 21 receiving yards for Norfolk — all in the first half — while Thompson finished with 30 rushing yards on 12 tries.
In addition to Maessner’s output, Kearney also benefited from backup running back Alex Kemp’s 1-yard touchdown on the Bearcats’ first drive of the third quarter. Kemp contributed 59 yards on the night, before sophomore Parker Wise provided the final 38-0 score on a 10-yard touchdown run.
“We have some guys up front who lack game experience but continue to improve. Those guys just keep getting better and better,” Kearney coach Brandon Cool said. “They do it in practice, and they did it in the game here tonight. I’m proud of our guys up front, but we’re going to have to continue to do that as we go on with our season.”
Those linemen include Kevin Osmanski (210 pounds), Carter Krause (282 pounds), Josh Warner (272 pounds), Tanner Ostermeyer (184 pounds) and Gabe VanWinkle (227 pounds). Ostermeyer and VanWinkle are juniors while the other three are seniors, but only Warner was a starter last season.
“Our center, Warner, played for us last year, but none of those other guys played any varsity a year ago,” Cool said. “Both of our I-backs — Maessner and Kemp are doing a good job for us. They’re patient and have great vision.”
Cool said that his Bearcats, with no running play of more than 15 yards and no reception of more than 21 yards, were “able to grind out a win here tonight and keep the ball away from (Norfolk), which was a big difference in the game.”
“Our team is going to continue to get better. We played tough competition week one against Grand Island, then to come in two weeks in a row on the road and our defense putting up a shutout speaks volumes about how we’ve improved from week one until week three,” Cool said.
For Norfolk, the Panthers will turn their attention to preparing for a game at Lincoln Northeast.
“This is kind of a critical week — we’re 0-3 and just got whooped,” Olson said. “You can lose some kids mentally, physically, emotionally, so it’s a critical week that way.”
Kearney (2-1) 7 17 7 7 — 38
Norfolk (0-3) 0 0 0 0 — 0
KEA: Miko Maessner 13 run (James Dakan kick), 6:14.
KEA: Maessner 4 run (Dakan kick), 11:02.
KEA: Maessner 1 run (Dakan kick), 2:01.
KEA: Dakan 32 field goal, :03.
KEA: Alex Kemp 1 run (Dakan kick), 3:12.
KEA: Parker Wise 10 run (Dakan kick), 11:56.