Norfolk’s offense struggles early in loss at Kearney
KEARNEY — It was a game of two halves.
Norfolk stumbled against Kearney early, falling behind 31-0 at halftime before rallying and losing 38-16 at Foster Field on the University of Nebraska-Kearney campus on Friday.
Norfolk coach Tom Olson said Kearney’s stout defense created problems early, but Norfolk mistakes contributed to the poor showing.
“Very simply, we did not play well that first half,” Olson said. “Every type of mistake we could make, we did — from holding up the wrong sign, to making the wrong read to running the wrong route. Offensively, we just kept making mistakes and they compounded themselves.”
The Bearcats’ first touchdown was set up by a fumbled punt on the Norfolk 20-yard line late in the first quarter. Three plays later, quarterback Brayden Miller’s 1-yard run gave Kearney the lead.
Norfolk’s spread offense struggled to move the ball initially. In the first half, the Panthers were sacked twice and had six running plays that resulted in losses.
Starting quarterback Brandon Hart was initially replaced by Brayden Sharp and then Jace Monday, who played much of the second and third quarters. Norfolk only managed 16 yards on the ground in the first half and 62 yards passing.
Hart came back in the fourth quarter and led Norfolk to two touchdowns and nearly a third late in the game. Norfolk drove it to the Bearcat 15 yard-line before giving it up on downs.
Olson said Norfolk was trying different quarterbacks to try to get some offense established.
“We were trying to find some mojo. We have had a lot of ups and downs. Our offense is predicated on the quarterback being able to make some connections on the short routes and good reads. I think we have three very good quarterbacks. I told them we can’t wait any more. We’re going to have to make this thing happen. I thought Brandon came back and made some outstanding reads the last few series.”
Kearney coach Brandon Cool said he was pleased with the Bearcat defense that first half.
“We won the field position battle. That really bode well for us, and then we had some explosive plays and those can become back-breakers,” he said.
The explosive plays included a 71-yard touchdown run by Miko Maessner. Receiver Seth Stroh also caught three passes for 90 yards and two touchdowns in the first half.
Cool said he was pleased with the progress his team has made as the season is progressing. About the only negative was 12 penalties.
“That was too many, but a lot of those were aggressive penalties. That’s something we’re going to have to work on. We’ll watch the film and regroup there,” he said.
Unofficially, Kearney had 12 penalties for 105 yards. Norfolk was flagged seven times for 50 yards.
* Cooper Caskey of the Panthers accounted for four first downs. He caught three passes for first downs and ran the ball for one out of the wildcat formation on a fourth and two.
* Norfolk faced Kearney was in the opening round of the playoffs last year, with Kearney shutting out Norfolk 45-0. The Panthers had been shut out for six consecutive quarters before getting a safety in the third quarter.
* Norfolk’s last win against Kearney was in 2015, beating the Bearcats 42-6.
* Field position played a big factor for Norfolk’s offense. In the first half, Norfolk started all of its drives in its own territory. In the second half, Norfolk twice started drives in Kearney territory, which led to points.
* Norfolk had three turnovers, which led to 14 points by Kearney. Kearney lost one fumble.
Norfolk (1-2) 0 0 2 14 — 16
Kearney (2-1) 14 17 0 7 — 38
K: Brayden Miller 1 run (Gabe Heins kick), 3:56.
K: Miko Maessner 71 run (Gabe Heins kick), 1:10.
K: Seth Stroh 12 pass from Brayden Miller (Gabe Heins kick), 4:35.
K: Seth Stroh 33 pass from Brayden Miller (Gabe Heins kick), 3:25.
K: Gabe Heins 43 fg, 0:00.
N: Safety, punt snap goes through end zone, 3:24.
N: Gage Dohren 14 pass from Brandon Hart (Connor Clayton kick), 8:15.
N: Gage Dohren 22 pass from Brandon Hart (Connor Clayton kick), 5:55.
K: Brayden Miller 31 interception (Gabe Heins kick), 3:27.