COLUMBIA — Jefferson City literally fumbled the game away.
Hickman High School (5-5) beat Jefferson City 16-14 and will advance to sectionals. Despite an 8-2 record, Jefferson City's season came to an end.
After forcing a Hickman punt to begin the game, the Jays got the ball at the Kewpies' 31-yard line. LeMone Field was dead. Jefferson City, a team that had been ranked No. 1 in the state for several weeks this season, was already threatening, and it was only a minute in to the game.
On the first play from scrimmage Jefferson City quarterback Thomas LePage received the snap and swung a pass out to the left to wide receiver A.J. Miller. Miller made the catch but was immediately hit and put the ball on the ground.
Then the ball rolled. Back and back it went, taunting every player who watched it. Hickman defensive end Alex Keith would reach it first, scoop it up and take it all the way back for a touchdown that gave Hickman an early 7-0 lead.
The environment immediately changed. The fans were louder. Halloween costume clad cheerleaders were smiling once again. Confidence in the team was once again renewed. An upset was brewing.
"At that point we really started to believe," senior linebacker J'den Cox said.
Jefferson City would fumble the ball three more times.
"Well they have had some issues with putting the ball on the ground, so we wanted to get after that," Hickman's coach Arnel Monroe said. "We wanted to try and get the ball loose and get it loose early.
The Jays dug themselves a hole too deep to climb out of.
At the end of the first half, the score was even at 7-7. The Hickman offense would not wake up until the second half. The biggest play the offense made all night was a 58-yard touchdown thrown by quarterback Logan Fitch to Keith, who also plays tight end. It was the first play of the fourth quarter, and it put the Kewpies up 16-7.
With the exception of a 72-yard touchdown run by Jefferson City running back Devon Moore, the Jays offense was stifled by the Hickman defense throughout the fourth quarter.
Hickman running back Will Owens ran for the game-clinching first down with less than a minute to go. Jefferson City, out of hope and timeouts, could only watch as the celebration began.
After the handshakes were exchanged by each team at midfield, many players ran over to the stands to high-five their families. Others jumped up and down and ran to the locker room to celebrate together. Cox embraced coach Monroe as they left the field. The emotion of the win brought tears to Monroe's eyes.
"I love that man," Cox said of his coach. "He told us all to believe in ourselves."
As the final whistle sounded, the stadium announcer's usually monotone voice was suddenly lively. He spoke the words that everyone was thinking:
"Do you believe?"