The artificial grass on the gridiron was saturated from a day’s worth of rain, making it hard for players to gain traction on the waterlogged turf. The temperature, when compounded with the wind, demanded a jacket. It was not perfect for an RBHS season opener against Rockhurst but not unpleasant either.
The Bruins, which defeated Rockhurst 33-21 last year on the Hawklet’s home turf, couldn’t come up with any offensive production until late in the game, which proved to be the lethal blow of an ultimately shortcoming bid in the 16-14 loss.
“We started off really slow [offensively]. We kinda got going in the second half. I don’t want to say that we’re going to have slow starts every game, but we just gotta start with more intensity,” senior wide receiver and outside linebacker Brett Mooney said. “Offensively [we made a lot of] mistakes, penalties especially. I can’t even tell you how many and what kind’s, but there was endless penalties. We’re beating ourselves.”
Early in the first quarter, the Bruins blocked a punt to put itself in good field position in Rockhurst territory. Failing to capitalize on the opportunity, the team fell short of moving the chains on four downs, resulting in a turnover.
When Rockhurst got possession of the ball, the Hawklets took advantage of their chances, converting a few first downs. After a substantial passing play by Rockhurst that led them into RBHS’ territory, all seemed to be going wrong for the home team.
Then entered senior free safety Peyton Carr, who reminded fans that one play can change everything. On the very next pass, Carr picked off Rockhurst’s senior quarterback Nick Smrt.
“I was just thinking [that I need to] get to the end zone,” Carr said. “I was trying to read my guys’ blocks, and [I wasn’t thinking much] really; I was just trying to run.”
And run he did. With help from his teammates’ blocks, Carr pulled a surprise return and fled from Bruins’ territory to the Rockhurst end zone. Senior Will Norris kicked the point after try straight through the uprights, and RBHS led 7-0 early into the first quarter.
“I caught [the ball] and saw all the O-lineman in front of me, so I knew I had a good chance, I just had to get to the outside,” Carr said. “[The momentum] was kind of a stalemate, you know, back and forth at the beginning of the game, so I think [the play] really picked everybody up. The crowd was going crazy; everyone on the sideline was going crazy, so it definitely pushed the momentum in our favor.”
Even with RBHS’ eruption of vigor, Rockhurst would go onto score in the second quarter on a beauty of a 51-yard pass from Smrt to senior tight end Luke Beshoner. Rockhurst fell short of tying the game up, however, as a result of senior defensive linemen Jalen Logan-Redding’s block of the PAT attempt. At the end of the half, the hosting team led by a score of 7-6.
The Hawklets struck first in the second half with an 8-yard rushing touchdown by senior tailback Max Williams. They went on to obtain three more points at the start of the 4th quarter thanks to senior kicker Owen Lawson’s impressive 51-yard field goal, putting them up 16-7, all 16 of them being unanswered points. The home team had converted no more than a few first-downs through three complete quarters.
“A lot of people did try to roll their own, especially in the beginning, but as the game goes on you make adjustments,” Mooney said. “It’s a long game, and that’s why I think we did pretty good at making adjustments as the game went on.”
The Bruins gained a burst of energy when Rockhurst bungled a punt, forcing the punter to try to complete a pass that failed to be caught, turning the ball over to RBHS. The home team nearly scored on a play where Carr was wide open, but the ball ricocheted off his fingertips and bounced onto the turf; a dead ball. On fourth down of the same drive, Norris missed a 41 yard field goal that would have put the team within a score of Rockhurst.
The close plays did not discourage the Bruins; however, it fueled their hunger. On their next drive, senior fullback Miles Cheatum rejuvenated the team’s spirit with a long run into the Hawklet’s 24 yard line. A few plays later, they finally broke the plane of the end zone offensively with a 24-yard pass from senior quarterback Grant Hajicek to senior wide receiver Spencer Nivens, who managed to come down with the catch despite pass interference from a Rockhurst defender. Norris’ PAT was good, narrowing the score to 16-14, Rockhurst.
Chances were looking up for the home squad when it forced Rockhurst to punt on its next drive. The Bruins’ field position was good at the 50 yard line, yet even with the odds in their favor, RBHS failed to convert a first down on this drive, turning the ball over on their own 47-yard line and allowing Rockhurst to go into victory formation.
“We were all just excited [to comeback late in the fourth quarter],” Mooney said. “We were hoping for the best. It’s a thrill. It’s nerve wracking… we were all thinking we were going to win that game.”
It was this gritty attitude from his team that made Head Coach Van Vanatta proud. He said the game could have gone another way if a few minute details panned out differently.
“As a team, and as a whole, we fought to the very end. I mean, that game we never gave up; we fought; we did some good things,” Vanatta said. “Shoot, we hit a field goal there; I mean you never know. That game could have come down to the wire [if we got] a first down and [moved] the ball.”
Despite the mistakes the Bruins committed, Vanatta doesn’t see them as the product of a lack of effort, talent or skill. The main issue, he said, spawned from lapses of the mind.
“The bottom line is we have to get better mentally. We made a lot of mistakes mentally,” Vanatta said. “Again, I don’t doubt their efforts; I don’t doubt their hustle. They played very hard.”
Vanatta doesn’t consider this loss as a setback. Rather, he accepts it as a way to learn from their mishaps and make adjustments for the future.
“Either we’re going to put our tails between our legs, or we’re going to freaking go to work,” Vanatta said. “I know what I’m going to do.”
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