KEARNEY — For three quarters, the Kearney Bulldogs and the Staley Falcons played to a close and entertaining high school football game.
But then the No. 4 ranked Class 5 Falcons rattled off four fourth quarter touchdowns and held the No. 5 ranked Class 4 Bulldogs scoreless in the second half to claim a 52-19 victory in a non-divisional contest Friday, Sept. 6, inside Bulldog Stadium.
The Bulldogs (1-1) were alive for most of this contest, but the home side couldn’t find the end zone in the second half and surrendered 26 points in the fourth quarter alone.
“When you’re playing a team like that, you’re going to have to make sure that you fight for all four quarters,” Kearney coach Josh Gray said. “We just didn’t outlast them.
“Mentally, we made some mistakes, and you can’t do that against teams of that caliber,” he added. “I don’t know if it was fatigue or what on our part, but those are things we have to fix as coaches.”
With the win, the Falcons (2-0) made it four straight victories against the Bulldogs.
Now, Kearney must regroup and prepare for next week's divisional contest at Platte County (1-1), who will also be looking to get back in the win column after a surprise 31-19 loss at Park Hill South.
“It’s always a fun game to play,” Gray said of the Platte County matchup. “Every game matters, so this is no different than last week. It’s always the task at hand and we have to prepare, no matter who we play.”
Against Staley, things were promising early. Jacob Stevens ran the opening kickoff back for a 92-yard touchdown return, his first of two such scores. Then, Stevens hauled in a 34-yard touchdown pass from Ian Acosta midway through the first quarter for a 13-0 Kearney lead.
“You want to put him in a position to get the ball in his hands and be a difference maker and those special teams touchdowns were huge,” Gray said of Stevens, a senior. “Jacob has good vision and has a burst. He’s a competitor and is one that understands the game and what you need to do.”
Staley got on the board when Dawson Parks tossed a 30-yard strike to Trevor Dusenbery with 4:57 left in the first quarter before the Wildcats knotted the score at 13-all on a Koa Grace five-yard run with 6:04 remaining in the first half.
The two sides each scored in the final minute of the first half, as Dermont Marshall recorded a short touchdown run with 27 seconds left for Staley just before Stevens brought back his second kickoff return for 93 yards and a 19-19 deadlock headed into the locker room.
But unlike the previous week when the Bulldogs came out strong in the second half, Kearney struggled to get much going on offense and the Falcons only improved offensively.
After the offenses traded possessions, Staley took its first lead on an Anderson Hendershot short touchdown run to make it 26-19 with 4:03 left in the third.
It was an advantage that the Falcons did not give up.
“That fourth quarter we wanted to be the stronger of the two teams on the field,” Gray said. “But they wore us down a little bit and we didn’t get some stops that we needed to. The fourth quarter was not typical.”
But the Bulldogs have an opportunity to get right at Platte County.
“As long as we react the correct way after this loss, we’re going to be fine," Gray said.