COLUMBIA — Last week, Rock Bridge football coach A.J. Ofodile sent in junior quarterback Shawn Rush Jr. to spark the Bruins in a season-opening victory. After Rush’s slow start Friday night, Ofodile’s tried using junior quarterback Mark Pickerel to lift the Bruins. But it wasn't enough, and Rock Bridge lost 31-14 to defending Class 6A champion Hazelwood Central on Friday night in the Bruins' home opener.
Down 14-0, Pickerel came into the game and connected on a 46-yard touchdown pass to junior wide receiver Sheldon Gerau midway through the second quarter to keep Rock Bridge within striking distance of the Hawks.
Pickerel continued his solid play in the first half by putting the Bruins within a field goal when he hit Jay Bush in the end zone for a 39-yard touchdown pass with 10.4 seconds remaining.
Pickerel said the the team deserved credit for the late first-half success.
“We are a completely different team than last year,” Pickerel said. “We didn’t roll over and die like our old team would have.”
After entering the second half only down three points, tired defense, turnovers and missed assignments knocked the Bruins off course, and they watched Hazelwood Central run away with the game.
After three fumbles in the first half, Rock Bridge added two more turnovers after halftime.
“Our defense was out on the field way too much,” Pickerel said. “When they are getting no breaks, they are going to wear down and get tired.”
Pickerel also had a difficult time staying off the ground in the second half. Despite 46 rushing yards, Pickerel was sacked five times and finished the game with -7 yards. Ofodile said Pickerel shouldn't be blamed for the losses on offense.
“Ninety-nine percent of the problems we had today were based on running backs missing assignments,” Odofile said. “The linebackers had good timing, and knew when to blitz.”
Despite losing, Pickerel said he is still optimistic.
“The team was really excited in the first half,” Pickerel said. “We saw that we could keep up with the No. 2 team in the state. We know we were capable of winning that game, we just made some mistakes at the wrong times. It could have easily been a very different score."