KEARNEY — In a game that had two teams without much returning experience, Class A No. 9-rated Kearney had just enough in the tank to hold off No. 10 Grand Island Senior High Friday.
The Bearcats scored on their first possession of the second half to break a 13-13 halftime tie and then held on for a 20-16 win as GISH had two possessions to try to win in the final 3:43 of the contest.
“I was really proud of our kids and how they competed,” Islander coach Jeff Tomlin said. “We lost a couple of guys toward the end and had to get some experience under fire, but I was proud of the way we responded all night.”
The Islanders were especially stout on defense. Kearney punted on its final five possessions after taking the lead on an 8-yard Kanon Koster run with 7:20 left in the third quarter.
But the Islanders couldn’t respond on offense. The Bearcats forced GISH to punt on its first four possessions of the second half.
GISH, however, fought back late.
The Islanders cut the lead to 20-16 with 5:10 remaining on a Brian Covarrubias 23-yard field goal that ended an 11-play, 56-yard drive. It looked like GISH may tie it two plays earlier when quarterback Cole Evans had a pass slip through Tyler Sextro’s hands in the back of the end zone.
“We had a heck of a look at one in the end zone there,” Tomlin said.
GISH had one more chance after the field goal and a three-and-out by the defense. The Islanders moved to the Kearney 25 with the help of a 40-yard pass from Evans to Will Nordhues, but the Bearcats responded with a pair of sacks.
“Our defense bowed their neck there the entire fourth quarter,” Bearcat head coach Brandon Cool said. “They were on their heels the whole time in the second half. It was a team effort. We had some inexperienced guys out there and it showed a little bit tonight.”
It was the Kearney defense that also swung the tide in the first half. GISH took a 6-0 lead on a 25-yard pitch-and-catch from Evans to Nordhues, but Kearney got the biggest play of the game when defensive lineman Lee Herrington tipped an Evans pass and then corralled it and scored from the 6.
“You talk about ball security all the time,” Cool said. “That’s the only turnover of the game. But we’ll have to hear about that touchdown all season long.”
Later, GISH went up 13-6 when Evans scored from 26 yards away and Kearney countered before the half when Koster completed a 5-yard pass to Bret Obermiller.
The Islanders ruled the stat sheet. They outgained Kearney 317-229 with Evans throwing for 141 yards and running for 110. Koster passed for 91 yards for the Bearcats and ran for 62 on 13 carries.
Tomlin, disappointed with the result, loved the effort.
“We just have to get better,” Tomlin said. “Obviously there are things we will see on film. But, what I know we have in spades is a lot of heart. If you don’t have that, you are pretty much sunk.
“But we have plenty of that. We will go back to work and we’ll be just fine.”
The Islanders will host North Platte next Friday at Memorial Stadium.