A message of toughness and endurance overwhelms Kearney football practices so often that junior linebacker Cale Garrett joked he’s tired of hearing it. Even Bulldogs head coach Greg Jones acknowledged such sermons are probably a bit overused in the weight room and during conditioning drills.
But they seemed rather appropriate Friday night.
Kearney outlasted Liberty North in the fourth quarter for a 9-3 victory in a hard-hitting game between a pair of undefeated teams. The Bulldogs erased a 3-0 deficit with nine points in the final 8 minutes of the game at William Jewell College.
“That was one of the most memorable games I’ve ever been a part of,” said Garrett, the captain of the Kearney defense. “It was just a war. They fight hard. We fought hard. It ended in our favor, but it could have gone either way.”
It all went Liberty North’s way for the first three quarters — when Kearney had yet to total even 100 yards of offense — before the Bulldogs took over in the fourth.
Kearney running back Reagan Frakes capped an eight-play, 64-yard drive with a 2-yard touchdown run with 7:59 remaining, giving Kearney a 7-3 lead. With his seventh touchdown of the season, Frakes became the first player to put points on the scoreboard against Liberty North in three weeks.
The Eagles, 2-1, shut out Raytown and Blue Springs South in the first two games of the season. They nearly equaled the task Friday but fell one quarter short.
Kearney, 3-0, extended the advantage to 9-3 when Liberty North snapped a punt out of its own end zone.
“Our kids truly believe if we stay with people and hang around, we can win it in the fourth quarter,” Jones said. “They truly believe that. All the time we’re preaching that to them. It’s constant.”
Kearney wore down the Liberty North defense in the fourth quarter, but its own defensive unit didn’t budge. Not even with its back against the wall.
Kearney turned the ball over four times in the opening half — including three times in its own territory — but Liberty North converted that into only three points.
Eagles kicker Josh Crawford booted a 31-yard field goal in the closing seconds of the first half after Kearney muffed a punt.
“They have a good defense, and we didn’t make the plays at the time they were needed,” Liberty North coach Ken Clemens said. “That’s the story of the game.”
The Eagles’ chances were worsened after halftime when tailback Richard Richardson emerged from the locker room with a boot on his left foot. The Eagles turned to the passing game in Richardson’s absence. Facing heavy pressure, quarterback Brian Sharp completed 8 of 16 passes for 89 yards after halftime.
But it didn’t result in points.
It rarely has against the Bulldogs this season. Kearney has allowed only 10 points during its 3-0 start.
“It was two really high-caliber defenses and two really high-caliber teams with a lot of athletes,” Garrett said. “For us to win this game, it shows how tough of a team we have because this was not an easy game.”