JEFFERSON CITY — Tied at 7 with less than 30 seconds remaining in the first half, all it took was a subtle raise of the hand for Kenny James and the Rock Bridge High School football team to take command of a 35-13 win over Helias Catholic High School.
Back to return a punt, James appeared to wave his hand as if to call for a fair catch. But the referees did not blow the whistle when James took off running with the ball and took it all the way for a touchdown.
Unfortunately for James, a holding penalty on the return kept the Bruins out of the end zone temporarily. Fortunately, however, and much to the chagrin of Helias Catholic fans, the fair catch call was neglected.
Afterward, James described that he looked at the kick coverage and did not plan on taking the return, but he made a split-second decision, caught the ball and ran.
"It kind of was a fair catch," James said, but he added: "I didn't think I called it at the time."
With the ball in the red zone, Rock Bridge quarterback Bo Bell found receiver Freeman Simmons for the go-ahead score with 1.3 seconds left in the first half. Simmons beat the Crusader defensive back with a quick inside slant to give Bell an open target.
Scoring just before halftime seemed to give the Bruins momentum in the second half, when they would score 14 more unanswered points to take control of the game.
Helias Catholic did not seem to have an answer for James or Simmons.
“He goes full speed all the time,” coach A.J. Ofodile said, referring to James. “He’s had several explosive plays this year to demonstrate his speed.”
James played on both sides of the ball, seeing time as running back, wide receiver and safety. In addition to his contributions on offense, James broke up a fourth-down pass in the second quarter from the safety position. It was James’ first full game in that role. Even still, he expressed confidence in his ability to pick up his assignments quickly.
"If you don't come in with confidence, you don't win," James said.
Running back Brad Troyer scored a fourth-quarter touchdown, powering through defenders on his way in.
“I’m extremely pleased for him, he’s kind of battled through some injuries throughout his career,” Ofodile said. “He’s really done a nice job of maximizing his opportunities this year.”
Ofodile said the win over Helias Catholic was a good building block for the Bruins’ season.
“We haven’t beaten them since 2005,” Ofodile said. “One thing we stressed to our kids all week is we consider them to be one of the better programs in the state.”
Last season, Rock Bridge led Helias Catholic at halftime but could not hang on for the win.
Rock Bridge improved to 4-2 this season and will face Francis Howell on Friday at home.