KEARNEY — It took a little while, but in the end, Kian Hayes and his Kearney teammates got the job done.
The junior midfielder found the back of the net twice to lead the Bulldogs to a 2-0 win over rival Smithville in the Class 3 District 16 soccer finals on Wednesday, Oct. 31, at Kearney High School.
“It was a goal these guys set, to win a district title,” Bulldogs coach Bill Forman said. “Then it became an even bigger deal when we found out we could do it at home.
“They worked really hard all year.”
The contest was a scoreless stalemate for most of the game, but early on, it appeared the Warriors might get the upper hand.
In the game’s 16th minute, it seemed that Smithville senior Christopher Larson had scored to put the Warriors on the scoreboard.
The officials, however, waved off the apparent score and restored the 0-0 status quo.
It stayed that way until nearly midway through the second half, when Hayes punched the ball past Smithville goalkeeper Grant Corkill in the game’s 58th minute.
“We were all trying to get the team riled up,” Hayes said about his fellow captains. “We saw (in the first half) that we weren’t playing as well as we should and we tried to get that urgency.”
While Kearney held the lead, it was hardly secure in a game that featured both teams exchanging attacks and defenses nearly one-for-one.
In the 66th minute, Hayes did it again.
He took a perfect feed from senior and fellow captain Gavin Frizzell and turned it into a 2-goal Bulldogs advantage.
“I took a turn and looked at the goalie and knew he wouldn’t find that bottom left corner,” Hayes said. “I tried to place it there and luckily he didn’t reach it.”
The Warriors still had nearly 15 minutes to play in a game that Forman said was closer than the 2-0 shutout score indicated.
“It was a lot closer (than the score),” Forman said. “Coach (Jon) Reed does a good job at Smithville and his kids are always ready to play and are always well-coached.”
After the game, the two coaches embraced after shaking hands and the Bulldogs gathered to pose for pictures with their plaque.
Hayes, however, said the celebration would be short-lived as Kearney still has business to take care of in sectionals.
“Me, Ben (Rath), Gavin — all the captains — are not going to let this train stop,” Hayes said. “We’ll keep it rolling, for sure.”
In order to get to the district championship contest, both teams had to navigate a bracket that was as closely matched as any in the state.
Kearney entered as the district’s top seed and first had to get past Excelsior Springs by the slimmest of margins.
The Bulldogs tamed the Tigers 1-0 in the opening round to set up the showdown with Smithville.
The Warriors, meanwhile, needed overtime to advance to the district final. Smithville earned a 2-1 win over another Highway 92 rival — Platte County — in the first round.