Kearney had been to state 11 times, including winning a state title last season, since Papillion-La Vista’s last state appearance in 2004.
That state experience didn’t matter in the cold, rain-soaked 1-0 Monarch victory in the first round of state May 8 at Morrison Stadium.
After the first 10 minutes past and Kearney wasn’t able to take control, Papio’s confidence started growing.
“We said at practice all week ‘Get through the first 10 minutes,’ Papio coach Andre Watts said. “They’ve done this for four years and know the routine so after we got through the first 10 minutes it was like ‘OK, we’re here to play today.’”
Despite playing a team that hadn’t lost on the season, the Monarchs looked like the stronger team in the first half. Papio created seven corner kicks, a few nearly resulting in goals, while holding the Bearcats to just three shots.
“Our confidence grew after that first 10 minutes when we realized we could play,” Watts said. “I thought we were really good that first half. The guys just got more confident as the game went along.”
While the first half was about building confidence, the second half saw that confidence pay off. With 22 minutes left in the match, Jackson Waldron provided what proved to be the game-winner for the Monarchs.
Waldron fired a shot from just outside the box at the goalie, who saw the wet ball slip through his gloves and as he tried to corral it on the ground, the ball squirted past the goal line.
“I thought the goalie had a routine save and the next thing he know he kind of fumbled it and it sneaked over the line,” Watts said. “I told the guys all week that if it’s wet, put it on goal and good things happen.”
Despite taking the lead, the Monarchs didn’t change anything about their attack the rest of the match.
“There’s a tendency to chance shape there and bunker in,” Watts said. “We decided to stay in our same shape and make them score a goal on us. We didn’t want to just let them have the ball.”
That approach work as the Monarchs had a couple more goal chances the rest of the way.
Kearney’s best chance came with about 10 minutes left. The Bearcats earned their third corner kick in a minute span and got a header in the box. Papio goalkeeper Jayden Kreis pounced for a diving save to his right to keep the clean sheet.
Kreis made five saves for the shutout with his back line — Josh Jones, Gabe Greiman and Nick Sells — adding plenty of support.
Watts played in the 1996 state tournament for the Monarchs and took pride in helping the Monarchs return to the state tournament and notch their first state win since 1997.
“This is amazing to get back her with these guys,” Watts said. “I’m so happy for them.”