Royce Austen’s footprints were all over Kearney’s district championship Thursday night.
The Bearcat senior scored a pair of goals and assisted on two others, playing a part in all four of sixth-ranked Kearney’s goals in a 4-2 comeback victory over Millard West in the District A-2 final.
The win clinches a berth in next week’s state tournament for the Bearcats, who reached the semifinal round a year ago.
“It’s become the expectation,” Kearney coach Scott Steinbrook said. “But that doesn’t mean it’s not sweet.”
The latest trip to state, Kearney’s fourth in a row and ninth in 10 seasons, will happen thanks in large part to Austen.
After Braeden Evans put Millard West ahead 2-1 with his second of the match in the 45th minute, Austen provided the equalizer on a free kick from straight out that found the upper left corner of the goal.
“When he put that free kick in, the confidence just soared,” Steinbrook said. “Not just for him, but for the rest of our guys.”
Afterward, Austen moved from the midfield to an attacking position as Kearney turned up the heat. The result was two more scores — the match-winner by Anthony Faz in the 55th minute and Austen’s second of the night with four minutes to play.
“That was the first time we felt comfortable, honestly,” Steinbrook said of the late insurance goal. “We knew we would have our hands full with Millard West, and we did.”
Faz had an assist to go with his two goals, one of which came in the match’s fourth minute.
Kearney has won 10 of its past 11 games entering the state tournament.
A-3 AT OMAHA WESTSIDE
Omaha Westside 2, Papillion-La Vista South 1, SO: The top-ranked Warriors made all five attempts in the shootout, the clincher coming from Christian Madsen after Papio South missed in the fifth round, to win a district championship. Westside, last year’s Class A runner-up, is in the state tournament for the third consecutive season.
A-7 AT NORTH PLATTE
Lincoln North Star 1, North Platte 0: Luka Nedic’s goal in the 33rd minute stood up as the winner as the eighth-ranked Navigators topped No. 7 North Platte for the district title. North Star will play in the state tournament for the second straight season. It will be the third appearance in program history. North Platte, meanwhile, is still in contention for the lone wild card.
A-2 AT SEACREST FIELD
Lincoln Southeast 2, Norfolk 1, SO: Keeper Ashley Davis stopped three attempts and made the winning kick in the shootout as the fourth-ranked Knights won 3-2 in penalties to clinch a district title and a spot in next week’s state tournament. Southeast (15-1) will be making its 19th state tourney appearance in the past 21 years.
A-3 AT MILLARD NORTH
Papillion-La Vista South 2, Bellevue West 0: Maddie Weichel and Ally Napora scored as the eighth-ranked Titans finished off a match delayed Wednesday by weather. Papio South will take on No. 2 Millard North at 4 p.m. Friday in the district final.
A-5 AT OMAHA WESTSIDE
Omaha Westside 2, Lincoln East 1: Emma Wilson’s header off a corner kick in the 63rd minute was the difference for the third-ranked Warriors. The district crown puts Westside into the state tournament for the 11th time in 13 seasons.
B-3 AT ELKHORN SOUTH
Gretna 2, Elkhorn South 0, OT: Sydney Mueller and Aliya Owens scored in the first overtime as second-ranked Gretna knocked off No. 1 Elkhorn South for the subdistrict title. Both teams will host district finals Saturday.