Stars shine, Cardinals prevail in playoff thriller

Joe Flanagan, Albion News

The stars were out in Albion Wednesday night.
Yes, Stars is the nickname of Kearney Catholic athletic teams. And, yes, there were numerous linemen and linebackers who were invaluable – performing the “grunt work” – in Class C1 #1 Boone Central/Newman Grove’s eventual 35-28 victory in the second round of the 2013 Nebraska State Playoffs.
But it was individual playmakers on both sides who truly shined on a frigid night of thrilling football at the Boone Central athletic field.

Kearney Catholic indeed had a star, as senior do-everything back Thomas Connely rushed for 199 yards in 19 carries. His 81-yard touchdown bolt on the first play of the third quarter ignited the Stars, who trailed 21-7 at halftime. He then took over in a ‘Wildcat QB’ position and led Catholic on a 53-yard game-tieing drive during which he completed a 32-yard pass to Blake Holtmeier before scoring on a three-yard dash. For good measure, he swarmed the field from his linebacker position.

As good as Connely was, he was trumped in the end by Boone Central/Newman Grove’s own dynamic duo. Junior QB Wyatt Mazour and senior receiver Derek Gentrup both watched last week’s playoff opener vs. Valentine from the sidelines due to injuries. Their return Wednesday night was welcome – and needed.
Mazour certainly looked healthy after missing the Valentine contest with a sore hamstring. This was a magic act Cardinal fans have seen before, as the talented signal-caller passed for 270 yards (20-of-34) and rushed for 225 (27 carries), participating in all five BC/NG touchdowns.
Following Connely’s heroics to knot the score, Mazour and the Cardinals wasted little time responding. First, Mazour spearheaded a 60-yard TD drive with runs of 24 and 13 yards and pass completions of 16 and 14 yards to Gentrup, scoring the touchdown on a two-yard plunge. Following a Catholic punt, he darted and dashed through the Stars’ defense for an electrifying 48-yard score to put BC/NG ahead 35-21 with 6:17 to play.

On a night when players’ breaths plumed in the chill air, Gentrup – returning just four weeks after knee surgery for a torn meniscus – must have seemed like some type of ethereal ghost to Kearney Catholic. The senior all-state candidate went through, by and over Star defenders to catch 12 passes for 169 yards and snared consecutive Mazour aerials of 13, 21 and four yards to complete a scoring drive that gave the Cardinals a 21-7 lead with 19 seconds remaining in the first half. Oh, yes, his interception of a John Masker pass at the BC/NG two-yard line ended another Kearney Catholic threat during the Stars’ third-quarter surge. Quite possibly the defensive play of the game.

Kearney Catholic (7-3) did not go down easily. Masker completed passes of 35 and 17 yards to Holtmeier, then connected with Jack Graham on an 18-yard touchdown pass to again pull the Stars within seven with 5:21 to play.
Boone Central/Newman Grove was able to use a good portion of that remaining time. Mazour gained one first down with four straight plunges behind center Michael Lipker and guards Alex Wiese and Austin Zoucha, then burst around right end for 33 yards and another first down at the KC 20-yard line.
Kearney Catholic did get possession with 56 seconds remaining, but Masker fired two incompletions, then was sacked by Wiese on consecutive plays.
“Well, that was quite a game,” Cardinal Coach Arnie Johnson acknowledged in an understatement.
“When you have two good teams, there will be some momentum shifts and that occurred in this game. We ended up making a few more big plays than they did.
“They pushed us. They believed they were going to beat us,” he added. “I think we’ve played some teams this year that said, ‘oh no, we have to play Boone Central/Newman Grove.’ But not these guys.”

Now, the Cardinals will face another foe with that ‘no-fear’ attitude, hosting long-time Mid-State Conference rival Norfolk Catholic (8-2) Tuesday (6 p.m.) in the Class C1 West Bracket quarterfinals.
The Knights’ dominant 33-7 victory Wednesday night over Adams Central sets up a rematch with Boone Central/Newman Grove (10-0). The Cardinals prevailed 28-22 in week three of the regular season.

It will be a night when the stars are sure to shine again in Albion.

See next week’s Print & Online editions of Albion News for further details and stats

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