Once the medals were handed out, the trophy was hoisted, interviews had been completed and the requisite team photo was taken Tuesday night, the triumphant Kearney boys soccer team migrated to the north end of Morrison Stadium.
The players and coaches were headed to the people who appreciated them the most.
Parents, siblings, classmates and school officials were ready to join them in celebrating the first Class A state soccer championship — boys or girls — won by a school from outside the metropolitan Omaha and Lincoln areas.
A goal in the 49th minute lifted the 18-2 Bearcats to a 1-0 victory over Omaha Westside to end what last week seemed like a Herculean effort to this first state title. Kearney had to defeat No. 4 Omaha Creighton Prep, No. 1 Omaha South and the second-ranked Warriors to earn the championship.
“Earned it: That’s a perfect description of it,” Kearney coach Scott Steinbrook said. “You look at the teams we had to face to get here, you’re talking about three incredible programs.
“For us to not only find a way to win all three of those games, but to get shutouts in all three, this crew just did everything the right way.”
The Bearcats won despite being outshot 7-1 in the first half and 10-2 over the 80-minute match. Everyone on the roster was in elementary school the last time Kearney got this close; the Bearcats were runners-up to Millard West in 2009.
Determined not to face a similar fate, the Bearcats finally broke through to score the one goal they needed shortly after the 10-minute intermission.
Midfielder Christian Dakan launched a corner kick from the northeast corner to junior midfielder Carson Schwarz. Forward Hunter Novacek started the transition play, Steinbrook said.
“We had a corner before that, and they didn’t mark me very tight,” Schwarz said. “So this time I was like, ‘I’m going to go get this one.’ ”
Schwarz said that’s the play that was called before Dakan arced the ball to him in front of the goal.
“We’ve run it a couple of times during this playoff run,” Schwarz said. “It almost worked (before), but it worked this time when it mattered.”
Steinbrook said the play was called by the players on the field, and it was a set piece that he was confident they could properly execute.
“We pride ourselves in set pieces,” Steinbrook said. “I’m not even sure what play the kids called there. Carson is a big, physical kid, and that was a pretty exciting moment for him.”
Westside coach John Brian said all the credit goes to Kearney for taking advantage of a mistake after the 18-2 Warriors had a chance to take the lead in the first half with several good looks.
“We had chances,” Brian said. “They’re a good team; they bent but they didn’t break. They’re resilient. We made a mistake, they capitalized on it. They came to play. They deserve it.”
The celebration with their fans continued until stadium officials told everyone wearing blue it was time to leave. Most of the pictures had the scoreboard in the background; no one from Kearney wants to forget that image.
“Anytime you do something for the first time, that’s a big statement,” Steinbrook said. “It’s about want-to, and these guys really demonstrated heart and grit tonight. That’s what ultimately led us to victory.”
Kearney (18-2)………………..0 1—1
Omaha Westside (18-2)……..0 0—0
At Morrison Stadium
Goals: K, Carson Schwarz (Christian Dakan), 48:39