COLUMBIA — As Mason Murray’s pass spiraled towards the end zone late in the fourth quarter of Friday night’s Providence Bowl, the once raucous crowd turned almost silent.
The scoreboard showed Hickman behind of Rock Bridge 21-16. Time ticked down toward a minute. Hickman coach Arnel Monroe, who had removed his headset before the play, began to pray.
2012: Hickman 22-21
2011: Rock Bridge 33-27
2010: Rock Bridge 24-20
2009: Rock Bridge 26-0
2008: Hickman 41-7
2007: Hickman 23-0
2006: Rock Bridge 48-0
2005: Rock Bridge 21-18
2004: Hickman 35-0
2003: Hickman 30-14
2002: Rock Bridge: 34-7
2001: Hickman: 28-8
2000: Hickman: 55-0
1995: Hickman 17-6
1994: Hickman 43-42 (2OT)
1981: Rock Bridge 7-0
Hickman leads series 9-7
But Murray wasn’t worried. The first-year starting quarterback saw single coverage on the outside and one of his favorite targets, junior tight end Grant Jones, sprinting towards the goalline.
“I trusted him so much,” Murray said. “Every time I throw to him he catches it. So I just threw it up.”
Jones rewarded his quarterback’s faith, coming down with a juggling catch in the back of the end zone with 1:13 left on the clock, putting the Kewpies on top 22-21 and sending the Hickman sideline and crowd into hysteria.
But the result wasn't secured until Rock Bridge kicker Joe Barbee missed a game-winning attempt as time expired, allowing the Kewpies a chance to celebrate with their classmates, as the hundreds of Hickman students in attendance flooded the field.
“When your time is called, you have to make it happen,” Murray said. “We made it happen.”
Murray’s time came again and again for Hickman on Friday night. With Rock Bridge slowing down Hickman’s running game, the Kewpies had to rely on Murray’s arm. In his first Providence Bowl as Hickman’s starting quarterback, Murray didn’t let the bright lights of Memorial Stadium get the best of him, which kept his teammates fighting.
“We trust him, he trusts us,” senior offensive lineman J’den Cox said. “If we give him time, he can make plays. We trust Mason, and I think Mason trusts this offense.”
The Kewpies’ offensive line gave Murray time to throw three touchdown passes, two of which came in the fourth quarter. He took four sacks on the night but peeled himself off the turf with the same intensity each time, encouraging teammates after each play. Murray led an 11-point fourth quarter comeback, helping Hickman (5-0) snap a three-year Providence Bowl losing streak.
“The worm has turned a bit in the last few years, but people forget, we are Hickman and we’re going to fight,” Monroe said. “The Kewpie is uncommon and we’re going to give uncommon effort.”
The anxiety before the last field goal attempt turned to joy on the Hickman sideline. Monroe hugged his players, coaching staff, alumni and students, struggling to keep back the tears. Murray matched his coach’s emotion, his voice hoarse and eye black smudged from tears of his own.
Monroe’s prayers were answered.