JEFFERSON CITY – They stood near midfield with their arms around each other, facing the harsh reality that their high school football careers had come to a close.
The seniors of the Hickman football team traded hugs and memories after a 35-28 loss at the hands of archrival Jefferson City ended their season a win short of the state playoffs Friday night.
Senior tight end Anthony Oetting had eight catches for 78 yards in the game after tallying just five receptions all season entering Friday. But as he wiped away tears he downplayed his own individual performance.
“It’s good to have a good last game,” he said. “But I would have traded it for a win.”
Tied with Jefferson City for second place at 1-1 in District Six play, the Kewpies faced a de facto playoff game against the Jays. A win sent them to the playoffs while a loss sent them home short of their goal.
“I thought we were a playoff team,” quarterback Logan Fitch said. “Looking back at the tapes of the old Hickman teams, I thought we had what it takes.”
Things were looking grim for Hickman late in the first quarter. Trailing 14-0, they recovered a Sam Turner fumble at the Jefferson City 40 but failed to record a first down. Facing fourth-and-eight, coach Jason Wright gambled, calling a fake punt. With Fitch taking over the punting duties for the injured Wesley Leftwich, it was a perfect opportunity.
Fitch rifled a pass to Spenser Washington down the left sidelines for a 38-yard score, halving the Jay lead to 14-7 and turning the momentum in the Kewpies' favor.
“I was pretty excited when I heard the call (for the fake)” Fitch said. “We’d worked on it in practice.”
Jefferson City fumbled again on the ensuing possession, their third turnover of the half, but the Kewpies could not convert. On five lost fumbles in the contest, Hickman only mustered two scores.
“We couldn’t finish,” Fitch said. “We couldn’t convert and we couldn’t execute.”
Fitch alluded to some complacency entering the game from the Kewpies, something he felt potentially cost the game.
“I think some guys thought we were just going to walk out and win this game,” Fitch said. “We lost to Fort Zumwalt West in the final seconds, they lost to Fort Zumwalt West in the final seconds. These were even teams.”
Fitch’s performance was rocky in the first half, but improved after the break, allowing him to rack up 311 yards on 25-of-42 passing. But the gap in the rushing yardage was what did the Kewpies in. Jefferson City outgained Hickman 369-67 on the ground.
Sam Turner, despite three lost fumbles, had 187 yards on 18 carries for the Jays while Devon Moore added 136 yards on 13 attempts.
"We got beat up front,” Fitch said. “But if you’re not focused in pregame, not focused in practice, that can carry over to the game.”
The win also meant that Jefferson City tied the overall series between the two teams at 51-51-4. Friday was the 106th meeting between the teams, but the series hadn’t been tied since game number eight, back in 1919, when it stood at 3-3-2.