The Kearney boys soccer team won the big trophy — the one for the Class A state champion — last year, and on Saturday got another one by winning the first edition of a trophy game with Lincoln Southwest.
The top-ranked Bearcats stayed undefeated with a 3-2 win against No. 5 Southwest at Seacrest Field. The Bearcats (6-0) have now won 17 consecutive matches over two seasons.
Senior Carson Schwarz scored the game-winner to break a 2-2 tie with six minutes, 26 seconds remaining in the second half when he headed in a long free kick into the wind taken by Royce Austen.
This was the first year for the new trophy game that Kearney and Southwest are calling the Interstate 80 Challenge Cup. The trophy game was the idea of Southwest coach Derek Scheich, and then he and Kearney coach Scott Steinbrook collaborated and the programs purchased the trophy.
Trophies are a big deal in the professional leagues, and closer to home in college football where several Big Ten Conference teams play in trophy games against conference schools.
BREAKING: Saturday’s match against @KHS_BoysSoccer will be the inaugural edition of the Interstate-80 Challenge Cup. The winner will take home the hardware until next years match. Looking forward to playing for this trophy in the upcoming years! Game on! ⚽️🏆 #NEPrepSoccer pic.twitter.com/1XClovJE9e— LSW Boys Soccer Official (@LSWFC_Official) March 29, 2019
“There is cups for everything, and we're trying to just bring some of that soccer culture,” Steinbrook said. “I had to show a bunch of people pictures when they saw the trophy, like, ‘What’s the deal with those ribbons on the side of the trophy?’ Well, that’s just how it is when you watch the Premier League champs hoist a trophy, or watch the FA Cup guys hoist the trophy. That’s a unique thing for soccer.
“Obviously in our state everybody is playing for the trophy at the end of the year, but if we can add some little benchmarks along the way, it’s just a fun way to add a little bit of something to a game that is a big game on our schedule.”
After the match, the Kearney players took a photo with the trophy in the locker room, and each year they’ll engrave the score of the match on the traveling trophy.
The 1st annual I-80 cup goes to Kearney High Boys Soccer!! pic.twitter.com/Pd6qxnfj8s— Bearcat Boys Soccer (@KHS_BoysSoccer) March 30, 2019
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Kearney was a natural choice for a trophy game, Scheich said. The teams have been playing each other for several years and now both are in the Heartland Athletic Conference. Neither team has dominated the series, and they’ve also played against each other at the state tournament three times.
“Them being the state champs, we’re all chasing them at the moment,” said Scheich of Kearney. “I just have a good relationship with Scott. He’s always treated me with a lot of respect. I respect his program, and the way he does things. He does things the right way and keeps all his guys accountable.”
The first edition of the trophy game was a good one. Kearney got a quick 2-0 lead in the first 30 minutes with goals by Elliott Lebsack and AJ Faz, both on counterattacks.
Then just when it looked like Southwest would go to halftime down 2-0, the Silver Hawks scored two goals by Luke Monson and Isaiah Shaddick in the final four minutes of the first half.
When Kearney won the state title last season, it made history by being the first team from outside of Lincoln or Omaha to win Class A.
The Bearcats returned six starters, including their top three goal scorers and star goalie Jacob Hardy. This was the first time all season Kearney even allowed a goal, and it also ended last season with three consecutive shutouts.
“We haven’t dug the ball out of the back of our net in a long time,” Steinbrook said.
There is a different kind of pressure after you’ve won state, Steinbrook said.
“We were always the ones that were just those kids from central Nebraska, and we’re just chasing the big dogs in the Metro, and we caught them last year. We finally caught them,” he said. “And now all of a sudden we’re in a different spot. Now it’s teams that are gunning for us.”