COLUMBIA — Since the beginning of the season, the Hickman football team has worked hard to ignore its Sept. 21 game in Columbia.
It's a game that will mark the biggest test of the season for the 4-0 Kewpies and a game they've been waiting a year to play. Most importantly, it's against rival Rock Bridge in the annual Providence Bowl, a game Hickman has lost each of the past three seasons.
vs. Rock Bridge (3-1)
WHEN: 7 p.m. Friday
WHERE: MU's Memorial Stadium.
"It’s the same as fighting your brother in the backyard," Hickman coach Arnel Monroe said. "We’ve been able to put that on the shelf and done a great job all year not worrying about that. We’ve had 365 days to think about it."
While Rock Bridge is on a streak in the Providence Bowl, the 2012 edition has a different feel. Hickman enters the game undefeated, while Rock Bridge is 3-1. Hickman hasn't held the better record entering the rivalry game since 2007, and it came within six points of beating Rock Bridge a year ago. But Monroe is still trying to keep his team levelheaded.
“Every team that steps on the field thinks they’re going to win,” Monroe said. “That’s a misnomer to say that because you’re undefeated you’re superbly confident. We want to be a good humble football team."
Despite their coach's message, it's tough for the Hickman players to hide their excitement and confidence heading into next Friday's game.
"They just took an L tonight, and we got a W," senior running back Deven Larry said. "I think we feel pretty confident."
More than feeling confident, the Kewpies are eager to make a statement. The players expect the intensity to pick up in practice this week.
"We’re going to be hitting a lot harder now in practice," sophomore defensive back Isiah Shauer said. "We’re going to challenge each other."
Junior defensive back Justise Keith expects Hickman's coaches to raise the intensity as well.
"In practice, I’m going to hear, ‘It’s Rock Bridge, it’s Rock Bridge’ from the coaches all day," Keith said. "It’s definitely going to be a big game for us. We’re going to have to prepare to step up."
After Friday night's 21-14 victory over Helias, Monroe noted that some are questioning the level of competition the Kewpies have played.
"The casual observer might look at the people we're playing and discount what we're doing," Monroe said. "But it's football, and anyone can beat anyone on any given night. That's what I firmly believe."
Still, the players realize that Rock Bridge presents their biggest challenge to date and a chance to make a statement.
“It’s been so long since we’ve beaten them,” Keith said. "People are saying, ‘You’ve never beaten a good team.’ This is our test right here, our true test.”
Hickman will lean on its running game. Deven Larry and Bohannon Davidson, who have been the backbone of Hickman’s offensive success, spearhead a talented rotation of running backs.
Rock Bridge, meanwhile, is anchored on defense by talented defensive tackles A.J. Logan and T.J. Smith. Logan has orally committed to Missouri, and Smith weighs in at more than 400 pounds.
The Bruins' defensive line won't sway Monroe from sticking with what his team does best.
“We’ve seen big people before,” Monroe said. “We’re just going to have to do what we do and hope it all works out well.”