COLUMBIA — The Missouri football team is taking on the Georgia Bulldogs on Saturday in their first conference matchup as a Southeastern Conference team, but the Tigers are not the only Columbia team looking to make a name for itself down south.
The Rock Bridge football team will line up against Har-Ber High School of Springdale, Ark., on Friday, and Bruins quarterback Logan Twehous said there is state pride on the line.
“Definitely. With everybody saying SEC football is completely different, you just want to go out there and prove to them that Missouri can play football too, and it’s not just those Southern states,” he said.
Har-Ber might not be in the SEC, but Rock Bridge coach A.J. Ofodile said the Southern intensity for football is just as present at the high school level.
“The further south you go, the bigger deal it becomes, and they definitely take it seriously down there,” he said.
While the Bruins hope to make a good name for Missouri, the interstate matchup is actually a result of assembling the jigsaw puzzle that is the Bruins schedule, Jennifer Mast, Rock Bridge athletics director, said.
As an independent school this year, Rock Bridge is in charge of coordinating all nine of its games on its own. This differs from the previous setup, in which the eighth through 10th weeks of the season were set aside for district matchups by the Missouri State High School Association.
Rock Bridge traditionally plays Hickman, Helias, Jefferson City and Rockhurst high schools, which leaves five spots to fill. For a large, high-caliber athletics program like the Bruins' (No. 3 in this week's Class 6 state poll), this can be a difficult task to accomplish within the borders of the Show-Me State.
“If you’re not able to find schools in Missouri to play, it’s often times because it’s very difficult to find nine schools that want to play you,” Mast said. “You’re very rarely going to find a below-average program or even an average program that can’t fill their schedule in state.”
When Rock Bridge looks for out-of-state opponents, Missouri’s southern neighbor is a prime target.
“Arkansas is ripe for this because of the unique situation they have with very large high schools,” Mast said. “They just don’t have very many. The last I heard, there are 14 schools in Class 7 football in Arkansas. You can’t run a full football schedule with 14 schools.”
Arkansas’ excess of big schools also looking to complete their schedules gives it a big advantage over other bordering states. Kansas adheres strictly to its conferences, Mast said, and Iowa has its scheduling handled by the state.
Illinois provides options within the St. Louis area, but Chicago is the next destination with a significant quantity of larger schools, which comes with travel considerations.
That’s not to say the Bruins aren’t willing to make a trek. Rock Bridge played Bishop Gorman High School in Las Vegas in 2006, and the Gaels returned the favor in 2007.
Playing an out-of-state foe costs more, Mast said, but the Bruins were left with little choice for their week three contest.
“We were going to have to get out of state to get it done,” Mast said. “And you start with Arkansas.”