KEARNEY — With a jet sweep to open the second half, the Kearney Bearcats stole the momentum, sparked the offense and staged a 36-21 come-from-behind victory over Lincoln North Star.
Trailing 21-16 at intermission, the No. 3-ranked Bearcats went away from the passing game and proceded to push through the sixth-ranked Navigators.
Kearney rushed for 220 yards in the third quarter alone — 79 on Hunter King's dash down the sideline and a 60-yard touchdown sprint by Caleb Lundgren that broke the game open.
“I wish we could have stopped at half,” North Star coach Mark Waller said.
While King and Lundgren turned in the long runs, McNitt usually had the ball in his hands. The senior quarterback rushed for 168 yards on 29 carries, including two touchdowns. He also completed 9 of 12 passes for 106 yards — all in the first half.
The Gators (6-2) scored on a 1-yard run by Trevor Birdzell to take the lead with 10 seconds left in the half. But with King's dash to the 1-yard line, any momentum North Star gained before the break disappeared.
“That was the biggest play of the game,” said McNitt, who scored on a 1-yard run on the next play. “I think it came out and set the momentum right away. Going into halftime, the momentum was on their side a little bit after scoring that touchdown.”
The momentum never found a home in the first half as each team dashed down the field.
North Star counted on the running of tailback Austin Rose, who finished with 114 yards on 21 carries and scored on a 23-yard touchdown run.
“We can't simulate that power running game they have with their big offensive line and that fullback and Rose coming at you,” Kearney coach Brandon Cool said. “So we got a full taste of it in that first quarter.”
The Gators also tried to use their size up front on defense.
“They were trying to shut down our run at the first of the game,” McNitt said. “They were blitzing a lot. Then we got them to back off and we started pounding it up the middle. That was exactly what our game plan.”
It didn't work until King broke loose.
After that, “we never got our mojo back,” Waller said. “They got to the edge, the perimeter, and we took poor angles … and they've got speed.”
North Star drove down the field on its next possession, but Kearney defensive tackle Brian Arp sliced through to stop the Navigators on fourth-and-1 on the Bearcat 13.
“That fourth-down stop was crucial for us momentum-wise … because they were just getting wound up offensively,” Cool said. “That defensive effot in the second half was tremendous.”
North Star didn't have many opportunities after the initial drive as Kearney held onto the ball and put away the victory.
“They were doing a lot of blitzing on our tight end side (in the first half), so we had to get into some different formations and find some areas where we could get some speed guys out on the perimeter,” Cool said.
Kearney High 36, Lincoln North Star 21
Lincoln North Star (6-2).......................7 14 0 0—21
At Kearney (7-1)..........................7 9 13 7—36
LNS: Bryan Johnson 11 run (Alex Stogdill kick)
K: Hunter King 27 pass from Luke McNitt (Quincy Bennett kick)
K: Bennett 25 FG
LNS: Austin Rose 23 run (Stogdill kick)
K: Kaden Bruggeman 9 pass from McNitt (kick failed)
LNS: Trevor Birdzell 1 run (Stogdill kick)
K: McNitt 1 run (run failed)
K: Caleb Lundgren 60 run (Bennett kick)
K: McNitt 2 run (Bennett kick)