SMITHVILLE — This year’s rivalry football game between Smithville and Kearney started out as a defensive slugfest through the first half of play.
The pace seemed to favor the Bulldogs as they built a 10-7 halftime lead, but the Smithville defense would not let the Bulldogs score again.
The Warriors started to move the ball with ease after halftime on the way to a 28-10 win.
Smithville (2-1, 1-0) hoped to repeat the early-game success it showed in last week’s 35-0 shutout. Instead the Warriors offense started slow with multiple turnovers in the early going, including a fumble on the opening possession to set Kearney (1-2, 0-2) up for a 45-yard field goal from junior Braxton Breedlove just two minutes into the game.
“We’ve had six turnovers a season for the last three or four years and we had three in tonight’s game,” Smithville head coach Jason Ambroson said. “That’s very uncharacteristic of us. That wasn’t very good.”
Ambroson said the defense kept the Warriors in the game as it limited the Bulldogs to one big play when Kearney senior quarterback Dawson Meinert connected with senior wide receiver Carson Frakes for a 50-yard bomb late in the second quarter. Meinert finished with 178 yards passing.
The Smithville front seven never let the Kearney rushing attack get going as the Warriors defensive linemen controlled the line of scrimmage throughout the contest. Senior running back Kaden Borchardt was held to 52 yards on 11 carries while Meinert was dropped in the backfield six times for a loss of 34 yards.
“I think we just kind of stalled out,” Meinert said. “The run game wasn’t there. We just weren’t executing and I missed some passes. We left some points on the board.”
Smithville junior lineman Mason Crim said the defense really got the Bulldogs out of their comfort zone by forcing the Bulldogs to pass more than they wanted.
“Once we got them feeling a little uneasy about what they were doing, then we had all the momentum on our side,” Crim said.
Sophomore running back Caleb Donnell helped retain that momentum when he broke off a 43-yard rushing touchdown early in the third quarter to put Smithville back in the lead, his second of the day after punching it in from a 1-yard out early in the second quarter.
“He runs so hard,” Ambroson said. “He gets up in between people and when we get bodies moving, he’s so good at getting angles and just running through there and just accelerating through cuts.”
Smithville’s special teams stepped up next as it recovered a fumble on a muffed punt by Kearney. Sophomore Andrew Hedgecorth immediately found receiver Samuel Calvert for a 19-yard touchdown pass. Hedgecorth finished with 170 yards through the air, most of which went to Calvert (70) and Foster (89).
Kearney moved backwards on its next possession before turning it over on downs on their own 36-yard line. Donnell found the end zone for a third time on a 17-yard run to put the game out of reach.
Donnell finished with 75 yards on 7 carries while his partner in the backfield Hayden Sigg rushed for 87 yards on 19 carries in his first game back after having surgery in the offseason.