The towns are separated by 58 miles, each just far enough from downtown to escape the bright lights in favor of the charm of a small community. Kearney and Harrisonville sit on opposite perimeters of greater Kansas City, but they share more similarities than differences.
And true to the small-town banality, high school football is one of them. Friday nights are must-see occasions. The high-profile players are prominent local names.
And, oh, yeah, there’s this …
“We both play smashmouth football,” Harrisonville senior Morgan Selemaea said. “It’s what the Kansas City boys are known for.”
For the first time since 1969, that smashmouth style from the western border of Missouri will be on constant display in a state championship setting.
Kearney and Harrisonville will play for the Missouri Class 4 state title at 7 p.m. Friday at Missouri State’s Plaster Stadium in Springfield. It will mark the first state football final featuring two teams from the Kansas City metro in 47 years.
In 1969, the second year of state championship football sanctioned by the Missouri State High School Activities Association, Midway defeated Smithville 24-0 for the Class 1A title. In the nearly five decades since, teams from the Kansas City metropolitan area have produced 58 state titles. But never again have two of them met in the final.
“Too bad we gotta drive by each other on the way down here,” Kearney coach Greg Jones said. “Maybe we should just play it at Arrowhead.”
The matchup includes a pair of teams that feel fortunate to simply be playing in the season’s final week, particularly Harrisonville.
Kearney, the defending Class 4 champions, received a 28-10 drubbing from Staley in the first week of October. Afterwards, Jones said Staley had played a more physical brand of football — a hot-button issue for Kearney.
The Bulldogs, 13-1, haven’t lost since.
“It was a little kick start to make us realize we’re not the biggest and baddest dudes around. There are teams that are going to scrap with us,” Kearney senior Ethan Luft said. “That kind of woke us up and made us bring it every single game.”
For Harrisonville, the climb was a bit steeper. The Wildcats endured a three-game losing streak in September, which started with a 49-0 loss to Platte County. In the three games, all against fellow Class 4 programs, the Wildcats turned the ball over 23 times.
But Harrisonville, 11-3, responded with an eight-game winning streak.
“It’s been a little bit of a roller coaster,” Harrisonville coach Brent Maxwell said. “I’m sure there was some self-doubt creeping in there, but they never let it show. They knew they just weren’t capitalizing on the best of their abilities. We could’ve self-destructed, but they didn’t let that happen.”
Kearney and Harrisonville have made postseason success something of a habit, combining for eight state championships over the last 14 seasons. A year ago, Kearney dethroned the Webb City dynasty, which had tallied five straight titles.
“We talk about it all the time — it’s part of the expectation here to win, and that’s been the expectation for a long time now,” Jones said. “I think culture can win a lot of games for you. I think it’s doing that for us.”
Kearney is 4-0 in state championship games. On Friday, to cap an atypical year, the Bulldogs and Harrisonville will be the only representatives from the Kansas City area in Springfield.
“It’s a chance to show everyone what Kansas City football is all about,” Luft said.