Intense Kearney vs. Grand Island rivalry built on close games, similar programs
Watch Friday's Kearney vs. Grand Island game live on News Channel Nebraska TV starting at 6:45 p.m.
KEARNEY, Neb. — It’s the classic Central Nebraska rivalry game, and this time the season is on the line.
Kearney is hosting Grand Island in the first round of the state playoffs Friday night at Cope Stadium in Kearney. The intense rivalry is fueled by proximity and the fact the programs are eerily similar.
“Yeah, I don’t think many words need to be said," Kearney quarterback Griffin Novacek said. "It’s just, it is what it is.”
“It is what it is," Grand Island quarterback Bode Albers said. "No one here likes Kearney, everyone knows that.”
Both teams are led by coaches who have been there for more than 20 years.
“Both programs have a lot of pride, their kids play exceptionally hard, they’re well prepared," Grand Island coach Jeff Tomlin said. "They just want to go out and be at their very, very best.”
“I think Grand Island’s one of the best coached teams in the state," Kearney coach Brandon Cool said. "Those guys are fundamentally sound on offense and defense and they do things that are tough on opponents from a special teams perspective. The rivalry adds just a little bit of spice to it.”
The coaches have identical evaluations of the first matchup of the season, a 10-7 win for Kearney.
“I thought both teams left plays on the field,” Cool said.
“Probably each team left some points out there that could have been scored," Tomlin said. "I think we stale-mated each other up front a little bit.”
Each senior class has been waiting for their final shot at their rival.
“We get talking up in the line and sometimes it’s civil, but usually against Kearney we get pretty chippy in there,” Grand Island center Reid Kelly said.
“It means a lot more than people probably know," Kearney running back Able Molina said. "We always want to get the upper hand against them, but it’s always just a fair matchup between us two.”
It’s ridiculously fair. Their last four games have been split with two wins each and decided by a combined total of 14 points. Both sides feel the same way about drawing each other in the playoffs.
“It was either between them and Elkhorn South and I was really hoping for Kearney again," Kelly said. "I think we have a really good shot at getting them.”
“I was honestly hoping for Grand Island," Novacek said. "Obviously, it’s tough to beat a team twice, but I think it will be pretty sweet and obviously I was pretty happy about it. Getting to play them at home, it should be a good sellout.”
In order to settle the score between the Bearcats and Islanders, it’s likely to come down to the final seconds.
“All things considered, both teams being solid in all three phases, it’s probably going to be another real close game,” Tomlin said.
“We’re going to see if both teams can counter what the opponent’s going to do," Cool said. "Whoever has the ball last is probably going to win it.”