COLUMBIA — With just under six minutes to play in the fourth quarter of Friday night's football game against Hannibal, the Hickman fans finally had a reason to cheer.
A Hannibal punt was imminent because of a huge stop by the Kewpies' defense. Hickman had just enough time to mount a comeback and erase its 10-0 deficit.
As the players picked themselves up following the play, one remained on his back. J'den Cox, Hickman's middle linebacker and defensive leader, lay on the ground writhing in pain.
Robert M. LeMone Field fell silent. The energy the team and crowd displayed just moments before vanished. The team seemed stunned that Cox had been hurt. Even after Cox walked off the field with the trainers and play resumed, the momentum and energy never came back.
The score remained 10-0 in favor of Hannibal.
"We lost our focus," Kewpies coach Arnel Monroe said. "We have to work harder at getting focused and staying focused."
After a night of dropped passes, penalties and missed opportunities, losing a player to an injury would have been a tragic end to a disappointing night. However, Monroe said Cox avoided a serious injury.
"J'den's fine," Monroe said. "His pride is more hurt than anything."
Hickman (2-2) fell behind early and never recovered. Its first play of the game was a pass that wound up being thrown back to quarterback Logan Fitch who was streaking down the sideline. It would have been a perfect way to start the game, however, an illegal man down field penalty brought the play back. It was the first of three Hickman first-quarter penalties.
A first quarter field goal from Hannibal kicker Caleb Bieniek and a second quarter touchdown pass caught by tight end Christian Williams was all the offense the Pirates needed. The touchdown was set up by a Hickman fumble and a defensive personal foul penalty that put the Pirates in scoring position.
Quarterback Logan Fitch ran the ball effectively in the second half, with gains of 19, 20, and 21 yards. The passing game bogged down after numerous dropped passes.
"Yeah we had a lot of those," Monroe said. "This is a matter of us not executing."
One dropped pass came on Hickman's last drive. It would have put the Kewpies in the red zone for the first time all game. They never made it inside the 20.
"People know we want to run the football," Monroe said. "We didn't establish ourselves running the football. That falls on me as a head coach, and we'll get that fixed."
The Kewpies will face strong teams in their next two matchups at Helias next Friday and against Rockhurst the following week.