Historic Hickman-Rock Bridge game changed the city

Thursday, September 25, 2008 | 8:14 p.m. CDT; updated 1:29 a.m. CDT, Friday, September 26, 2008
Almost 15 years ago, Hickman and Rock Bridge played one of the greatest high school football games in Columbia. The matchup, later dubbed the "Providence Bowl," renews Friday night at Faurot Field.
Hickman-Rock Bridge Series

1981 Rock Bridge 7-0

1994 Hickman 43-42 (3 OT)

1995 Hickman 17-6

2000 Hickman 55-0

2001 Hickman 28-8

2002 Rock Bridge 34-7

2003 Hickman 30-14

2004 Hickman 35-0

2005 Rock Bridge 21-18

2006 Rock Bridge 48-0

2007 Hickman 23-0


COLUMBIA - Friday night lights in Columbia never shine brighter than when Hickman plays Rock Bridge. This week, when the rivalry is renewed at Faurot Field, the teams will continue their annual affair, now called the "Providence Bowl" because both schools are on Providence Road at opposite ends of the city.

But 14 years ago, before the grand stage and marketable name, the second contest between the rivals might have been the greatest high school football game ever played in mid-Missouri. Today, it remains the only Hickman-Rock Bridge game ever to go into overtime and just one of three to be decided by one score.

Entering the game on Oct. 21, 1994, Rock Bridge was 7-0 and Hickman had lost just one game. Both teams had high hopes for the state playoffs as district play began. The two had not squared off since 1981, when Rock Bridge defeated Hickman 7-0 in a fumble-filled state playoff game.

Rock Bridge head coach and athletic director John Henage said he had tried to keep the two teams from playing each other, but that changed when the Missouri State High School Activities Association put the two schools in the same district. He was afraid of bad blood developing between the two schools.

"I had a bad experience in St. Joe with two city schools playing each other," he said. "Brothers had kids and they would end up playing each other. They they wouldn't speak to each other at Christmas. It just kind of turned me."

However, the players relished the opportunity to take on their childhood friends and teammates for the first time on the high school level. Hickman quarterback Corby Jones, a future MU star, said he made many promises over the summer prior to the game.

"It was a big deal," Jones said. "I shot my mouth off that summer. We all hung out in the summer. It was the first game in years. I said I would never play football again if we lost."

And it wasn't just the teams realizing the importance of the game. High school football had captured the city's attention.

"The streets were bare," said former Hickman nose tackle Raphiell Freelon. "Everybody was pretty much at the game."

More than 9,000 fans showed up to Hickman, which seated 2,500, for a game that had enough build-up for an entire season.

"We had to wait for the crowd to part for us to even get onto the field," Freelon said. "We came out, everybody's eyes got big. We had never played in front of a crowd like that before. You see something like that, it throws you off for a second."

"Both sides were loud," said former Hickman running back Regi Trotter. "It was a great high school atmosphere. It was better than a lot of the Division-II colleges where I coach now."

The crazed purple and green-clad fans filling the bleachers and lining the track seven to eight rows deep were treated to a seesaw game that took the entire regulation period, three overtimes and one gutsy play call to decide.

Coaches from the University of Nebraska were also in the stands to recruit Jones on the night before the Cornhuskers played MU.

The teams traded punches en route to a 21-21 tie at the end of regulation. With 6:24 left in the fourth quarter, Rock Bridge capped the scoring with an 86-yard touchdown drive.

In overtime, each team had four downs from the 10-yard line to score.

In the first overtime, Rock Bridge's Skyler Graves scored on a five-yard touchdown run. But, the Kewpies answered with a Jones touchdown pass to Nathan Beckett, bringing the score to 28-28.

In the second overtime, Trotter ran into the end zone from 3 yards out for Hickman. Graves followed for Rock Bridge with his second touchdown of the night to even the score at 35-35.

In the third overtime, Rock Bridge quarterback Barry Moore dove into the end zone on a fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line, and the Bruins converted the extra point to go up 42-35.

Then Hickman took the field. From the 10-yard line, Jones faked a handoff, pulled around the right side of the line and sprinted into the end zone for a touchdown. However, Hickman kicker Matt Linit would not see the field for the point after attempt.

The Kewpies were going to try a two-point conversion. A successful score from the three-yard line would mean a victory, and failure would mean a loss.

Hickman head coach Gregg Nesbitt said he and Jones had determined after the first overtime that, if they played a third overtime, the Kewpies would go for two.

"(Rock Bridge) had gained control of the line of scrimmage in the second half," Nesbitt said. "It was beginning to rain right at the tail end of the ball game.

"We needed to be able to throw some. I thought the weather was to their advantage."

But Jones had second thoughts when the time came to win or lose on a single play.

"We had the best kicker in the state," he said. "I knew they couldn't stop us from scoring offensively. I told Coach Nesbitt to send out the field goal team and kick (the extra point). We could play all night and they're not going to stop us. He said, ‘We're going for it. Go make me a good coach. You're going to run the exact same play.' I said, ‘No.' He said, ‘Make me a good coach.'"

That is exactly what Jones did. He faked the handoff to Trotter like the previous play, but then rolled out to his left and scampered into the end zone. Graves, who also played defensive back, laid a hit on Jones and knocked him down, but not before he crossed the goal line to end what KOMU-TV would later call "The Game of the Century."

Hickman had won, 43-42.

Even after the Hickman players' and fans' cheers of victory had subsided, the game had a lasting effect on Columbia's interest in the two football programs.

"People talked about it for weeks," Hickman radio broadcaster Tex Little said. "You'd run into somebody. ‘Did you see that game?' It opened up the Columbia residents' eyes again to high school football."

Both Hickman and Rock Bridge went on to finish with an 8-2 record. Both teams also missed out on the state playoffs by losing to eventual-class 5A state champion Jefferson City, which emerged from the district to make the state playoffs.

Today, the coaches and players have moved on, but they say the game remains one of the best they have ever been a part of. Nesbitt stayed at Hickman until 2005. Now, he is co-defensive coordinator at the University of Central Missouri and in his 29th year in football.

"I've been around a lot of great games, a lot of great teams as a player and a coach," Nesbitt said. "This game is right at the top."

"That game was the best game this town has seen," Freelon said. "I don't think anybody's ever seen a game like that around here."

"A lot of games don't live up the hype," said Henage, who left Rock Bridge in 1997 after more than two decades of coaching. "This one lived up to the hype."

While it remains etched in their memory, those involved say they rarely talk about the game. Jones says it never comes up in conversation when he meets with some of the players involved in the game. Trotter said the conversations usually focus on what each of them has accomplished since their days at Hickman.

Fanfare still surrounds the Providence Bowl, but to those involved, the game might never match the second Hickman-Rock Bridge game ever played.

"There will be nothing to match the '94 game," Nesbitt said.


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